Austin Film Festival 2018 Review: GREEN BOOK

By Mark Saldana 

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

In 1962, acclaimed Jamaican pianist Dr. Don Shirley decided to take a tour through the Jim Crow South, but needed a strong driver/security guard to guarantee his safety and make sure that he makes his engagements in a timely manner.  Dr. Shirley chose bouncer Tony “The Lip” Vallelonga to handle the job. In doing so, the two would eventually bond and become good friends.  The new film by Peter Farrelly tells this story and does so in a lovably crowd-pleasing way.

Viggo Mortensen stars as Tony Vallelonga. After losing a job as a club bouncer, Lip desperately needs new work. But because he is as family man, he is not so desperate to work for the mob bosses in a more criminal capacity.  He gets the opportunity for a legitimate job through Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali).  Dr. Shirley is about to embark on a tour through the deep South, but needs a driver who can also watch his back.  He offers the job to Tony “The Lip” who reluctantly accepts, as it will keep him away from his family for a long time.  The trip proves to be educational for Tony who faces the harsh realities of racism in the South.  The two gentlemen also discover that a real friendship can develop between two people of very different backgrounds.

Written by Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie, and Peter Farrelly, Green Book might be a safe, crowd-pleasing film about race relations, but I feel it is a necessary balm, given the state of things today.  This film offers audiences a true example of hope, love and understanding that can exist between two different men.  If these two vastly contrasting people can find some common ground, there is hope for all of us.  Farrelly and his writers do a good job of presenting this story with some genuinely poignant, unsettling and heartbreaking moments,  mixed with charming and thoroughly lovable humor.

It certainly helps that both Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen share a wonderful chemistry together that starts off awkwardly, but develops into a credible friendship. Ali gives a wonderfully moving and vulnerable turn as Dr. Don Shirley, a meticulously gifted artist who struggles to find his place in a not-so-caring world.  People love his music and the talent he has to offer, but don’t necessarily care for the color of his skin or who he truly is. Tony Vallelonga is a likable average guy who talks too much, has a bad temper, but always wants to do the right thing.  Viggo Mortensen gives a great performance as this genuinely good fellow who always tries to do what’s best for his family.  The film also features some wonderful acting by Linda Cardelini who stars as Tony’s wife Dolores.

And because this film unabashedly wears its genuine heart on its sleeve and makes me believe it to be true, I fell in love with it.  I know it isn’t the most gutsy or completely relevant examination of racial relations. However, at a time when there is such ugliness in the world, it is wonderful to see a beautiful true story of love and friendship that transcends racial barriers.

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