It will be difficult if Green Book is absent during awards season this year. The film about a working-class Italian-American bouncer driving an African-American classical pianist on a tour through the 1960s American South, touches every emotion the human brain is capable of feeling. The film’s major success is in it’s tone and we can thank director Peter Farrelly for a perfectly crafted exposé in a MasterClass on filmmaking. It is surprising and important to note that he, along with his brother Bobby, have been responsible for some of the most coma-inducing, spit-take-evoking, laugh-out-loud-on-your-tenth-view-watching, comedy films over the last 30 years (Dumb and Dumber, Kingpin, There’s Something About Mary). Whether or not these films resonate with everyone is beside the point. They are accepted universally as a steppingstone for American comedy in a landscape that cannot be ignored. Most critics will be quick to point out the giant leap Green Book is for Farrelly but, upon closer inspection, his trajectory towards a politically charged dramedy is expected. The Farrelly’s have always delivered films that push boundaries whether politically, scatologically, or otherwise. They often force us to ask ourselves to laugh at what is usually considered taboo and uncomfortable. All great artists challenge us. All great comedians present the minutiae of daily life as if their thoughts are our own, having reached the punchline first. However, comedy is not what Green Book is about.
Certain films benefit from a “valve release”. Consider the last movie you were totally enamored with, so much so, that you found yourself clutching the armrest of the person sitting next to you. A gifted screenwriter, director, or editor (sometimes in combination of the three) crafts a film as if it were an automobile traveling on a road trip: sometimes we are speeding, sometimes we are at a standstill, occasionally there is a collision, and before we have reached our destination (i.e. THE END). Along the way we may even experience the occasional high-speed chase, literally or figuratively; INSERT: “valve release”. The filmmaker forces us to stop at the side of the road and balance our tires as we take inventory for the rest our journey; a tried-and-true method of storytelling. In most cases, drama needs a release. Without it, theaters would need to install oxygen masks.
Green Book is a perfect script in that it allows us to breathe. It’s moments are heightened by the intensity of what you know can happen to it’s main character, Dr. Don Shirley, played by the brilliant Mahershala Ali (see Moonlight, 2016, dir. Barry Jenkins), as he positions himself on a musical tour throughout the southern United States during the Jim Crow era. Dr. Shirley is our conscious, encompassing the morals of a decent society. Tony Lip, his driver (Viggo Mortensen), is the makeup of the rest of us. He eats what tastes good, he takes what he feels he deserves, he is who he is and proud of it. The two characters mirror The Odd Couple, their humor deriving from their differences. The film is a balancing act. How much can we tolerate of each one’s idiosyncrasies to the point of coexistence? Dr. Shirley may be our conscious but we’ll go kicking and screaming into the night before letting him tell us what to do. Tony Lip is, warts and all, the everyman and it’s delightful to see both characters teach each other what they have missed along the way. It is clear that no one enjoys being preached to and, here again, is where the film thrives. The political correctness of Dr. Shirley reminds his counterpart of common human decency while Tony’s lack of political correctness does the same. Green Book is a film about decency and how it abates society.
My largest takeaway from the film is that incomparable feeling of magic when you realize you have just seen a Great Movie. One that evokes laughter and tears all the same. Green Book will bring audiences together, if only for a few hours, before they step back out into the world to be polarized once again. Upon reflection, this film will invoke an unbreakable smile.
— Nathan Robert Blackburn