Sentimental, thought-provoking, and surprisingly humorous, this film follows the unlikeliest of friendships on a road-trip through the Jim Crow South between a xenophobic and racist American-Italian tough guy and a sarcastic and intelligent black pianist.
The central message of the film, ‘it takes courage to change people’s hearts’, may seem overly sappy, but it’s an important one nonetheless, as Tony ‘Lip’ Vallelonga is transformed from someone who initially throws glasses used by black men in the bin to one who embraces his new African-American friend in a scene which cannot fail to bring a tear of joy to your eye.
It is not surprising that Green Book is full to the brim with clichés and somewhat predictable one-liners, however, the sophisticated and dignified performance of Mahershala Ali carries the film and suggests a character who is not a stereotype. Don has never eaten fried chicken, never heard Little Richard and declines to play the piano with a whiskey glass resting on it, yet is still refused entry to the white men’s bathrooms and restaurants. In an emotionally fuelled scene in the pouring rain, Shirley despairs that he is neither black enough nor white enough, a performance worthy of its award success.
Not to be overlooked is the performance of Viggo Mortensen as the seemingly straightforward family man, Tony ‘Lip’. Immediately deciding on the initially patronising, but eventually endearing nickname of ‘Doc’ for Doctor Shirley, the easily-pleased and ever-hungry Tony is never happier than when he exclaims ‘Kentucky fried chicken in Kentucky, when’s that ever gonna happen!’ However, although seeming simplistic he does undergo a great deal of character development, predictably changing his racist attitudes an accepting his new ‘genius’ of a friend.
A rather endearing aspect to the film is the letters Tony writes to his wife Dolores (Linda Cardellini), which begin very unsophisticated, simply listing what he has eaten, to the final letters, dictated by Don, which pour out heartfelt messages and romantic truisms.
Another pivotal scene takes place in a restaurant which Don has been sent to in place of a ‘white’ establishment. With a little encouragement from Tony, he takes a seat at the piano at the front of the bar and, removing the whiskey glass resting on it, begins to play the classical music he has been trained in but never allowed to perform. The audience is stunned by his sheer talent, breaking out into a roar of applause, before he is joined on stage by the house jazz musicians, finally being accepted into a community.
Unsurprising, but nonetheless uplifting, Green Book is a film worthy of its Academy success; yet its crowd-pleasing tone makes it accessible to mainstream audiences, meaning the very welcome anti-racist message can reach us all.
Image: Disney/ABC TV Group via Flickr