Green Book is Worth the Trip

. January 14, 2019.

An elite black pianist tours the segregated south with a white roughneck chauffeur

Green Book combines two crowd-pleasing formulas—the road movie and the true story—with two stellar lead actors, Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali. Mortensen plays Tony Lip, a white, working class second-generation Italian-American from the Bronx who works as a nightclub bouncer. Ali plays Don Shirley, a black man who is a doctor of music and a classical pianist in need of a chauffeur for his tour dates through the segregated south in 1962. If this scenario sounds like the typical story of “two polar-opposite guys from different backgrounds thrown together in strange circumstances who learn from each other and then, eventually, realize they like each other after all,” it is. The film’s title is derived from a guide of establishments that blacks traveling in the Deep South were allowed to patronize.

Early on, Don makes it clear to Tony that he needs a bodyguard as well as a driver. Tony is a broad caricature of an Italian-American male, straight out of The Sopranos. His education comes from the neighborhood streets rather than school. He’s got a good heart, but his humor is a little crude; he says what he thinks, sans filters. In contrast, Don is hyper-educated, and his fastidious nature gives him little patience with Tony’s bull-in-a-china-shop personality. Don is also gay, a fact that is touched on in a limited way, keeping the focus on the racism and hypocrisy of a society that allows Don to play prestigious venues where his talent is celebrated, yet denies him the right to eat in nice restaurants, stay in decent hotels, or even use the bathroom in the places where he performs. Don’s cool exterior masks a profound sense of loneliness. He doesn’t feel he belongs in either white or black society. Tony’s warm, hearty nature starts to erode Don’s considerable emotional armor.

Green Book was directed by Peter Farelly of the Farelly Brothers, who made riotously crude movies like Kingpin and There’s Something About Mary in the 90s. As Tony and Don make their way through the south to finish Don’s tour, there isn’t much they encounter that we haven’t seen in Farelly’s other movies. And while some of the stereotypes portrayed here are cringe-worthy, there’s something about Green Book that is thoroughly enjoyable. Mortensen and Ali are actors of extraordinary talent, and it’s engaging to watch them disappear into their roles. Though the movie is slightly over two hours, it is never boring. Mortensen, for whom an Oscar is long overdue, is a highly intelligent actor who chooses parts carefully. The sheer talent of these two actors offsets what could have been an obvious film and makes it deserving of Oscar contention.

Green Book stars Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, and Linda Cardellini.

Trending

Vibe over Genre: May Erlewine & the Woody Goss Band’s ‘Anyway’

We chatted with Woody Goss and May Erlewine about the creative process, and about how vibe supersedes genre. Plus the premiere of their newest single, “Anyway”

Venue Spotlight: The Ann Arbor District Library

The Ann Arbor District Library’s staff observed the progressing spread of COVID-19 with a keen eye towards optimal safety measures. Like all libraries, it remained closed for the duration of the three-month period of Michigan’s shelter-at-home executive order, to curtail the spread of the virus. But Sherlonya Turner says that while their staff certainly considered

Venue Spotlight: Ziggy’s in Ypsi

While Ypsilanti’s beloved Ziggy’s isn’t quite ready to open, we talk to David Jeffries about the recent bit of good news about reopening when the timing’s right.

Venue Spotlight: Blind Pig, “We can never turn our back on local music”

There’s a solid likelihood one of your favorite bands stopped through this 400-capacity venue on 1st. St. on their way to their higher-tier status.  Nirvana was at the Blind Pig in 1989 (opening for the Flaming Lips). Pearl Jam and the Smashing Pumpkins came through on respective tours in 1991. A few other names to