★★★ | Green Book
To be gay in America in the early 1960s was not easy. But to also be black, and discriminated against on every level, was an entirely different thing, no matter how famous you were.
Jazz pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) takes a Green Book with him when goes on a music tour of America’s south. It was a guidebook specifically printed for African-American motorists travelling in America’s south with recommendations on places to stay and eat where they won’t get discriminated against. Shirley (Mahershala Ali) hires racist (and bigoted) Italian Frank ‘Tony Lip’ Vallelonga (an excellent Viggo Mortensen) to be his driver on the two-month concert tour. The nightclub where Frank worked had shut down so he was in need of a job, perhaps any job, to support his loving wife and two young sons. So Frank packs away his racist views and becomes a sort of ‘Driving Mr Daisy.’
Of course, nothing goes smoothly during the tour, especially when Shirley misbehaves with another man at a YMCA, with Frank left to pick up the pieces, and realizing then that this is why Shirley’s marriage to a woman never worked out. And Frank also introduces Shirley to the simple pleasures of life that he is missing, including eating fried chicken with his hand (something evidently that, hard to believe, Shirley never did). And after two hours we can see where this film is literally taking us, and what will happen between these two men during the trip.
Green Book is a true story, and directed by a subdued Peter Farrelly (There’s Something About Mary, Dumb and Dumber) it’s as slow as molasses on a hot day – but Mortensen lightens up the screen in every scene he is in – he’s fantastic and is the take away of this film. Ali, while good, seems a bit stiff throughout, and I don’t understand why he is winning all the awards (Richard E. Grant is so much better in Can You Ever Forgive Me.) Nevertheless, Green Book is a good study in race relations in America at that time when JFK was President and Marilyn Monroe was the star of the moment.
Tim Baros writes film and theatre articles/ reviews for Pride Life and The American magazines and websites, as well as for Hereisthecity.com, Blu-RayDefinition.com and TheGayUK.com. He has also written for In Touch and TNT Magazines, SquareMile.com and LatinoLife.co.uk. He is a voting member for the UK Regional Critics Circle and the Gay & Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association (GALECA – of which he is the UK representative). In addition, he has produced and directed two films: The Shirt and Rex Melville Desire: The Musical.