The Green Book is sure to put a smile on your face and delivers the heartwarming ending you want to see heading into the holiday season, but the film is too sanitized to deliver any pungent messages on racism.
While searching for a job, Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) is interviewed by African-American pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) for a driver position for Shirley’s across-the-South tour. Tony eventually accepts, and the two come together in an unlikely friendship. Despite Shirley’s class and the fact that he is a performer, him and Tony must face racism and segregation in the South, forcing them to use what is known as the “Green Book” to find locations where they are allowed.
First off, the two lead performances are stupendous. Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali craft two very different characters but two very likeable characters who have their own individual conflicts. The development of their relationship takes time and feels natural, and the dynamic between the leads grows stronger as the movie goes on. Alienated in both his own community and the white community, Don Shirley I found to be one of the more interesting characters in the story. He has bandmates and a brother whom he could bond with, and yet chooses to be alone. He is very eloquent in speech and wise about music, and yet he makes stupid mistakes which require Tony to save him from. Ali provides Shirley with that complexity, as his range allows him to depict both sides of his character: the quiet, intelligent Shirley, and the sorrowful drunk.
The Green Book has humor, it has heart, and it has a simple story that buddies up a white and black perspective in a time period of segregation. However, when I say sanitized, I mean the movie plays it safe. Scenes where you feel bad for Shirley because the way he is treated, where he is faced by racism, are often followed up with much lighter moments balancing the film out tonally. Either that, or Tony steps in and is given credit for standing up against racism and for his friend. A lot of the film’s racist moments feel forced in, simply serving as moments for Tony’s view of race to change or so him and Shirley’s relationship can develop. The Green Book’s biggest flaw: its cliché addressal and depicture of segregation in the south.
I enjoyed watching The Green Book. I liked watching the two leads go at each other, I liked listening to the music played by Mr. Don Shirley, the humor is never forced and is worked in well, but the movie was too easy to watch, and a movie about an African American in the South during that time period really shouldn’t be. 8.5/10