Peter Farrelly’s 1960s-set racially-charged dramedy Green Book is inspired by the unlikely real-life friendship of Jamaican-American piano prodigy Don Shirley and his one-time chauffeur, Italian-American tough guy Tony Vallelonga. Hailed as an Oscar frontrunner after winning the People’s Choice Award at last year’s Toronto Film Festival, the film has more recently been mired in scandal, with screen-writer Nick Vallelonga (Tony’s son) lambasted for an anti-Muslim tweet, an old story resurfacing that Farrelly once had a propensity for exposing his penis to unsuspecting actors, and Shirley’s family accusing the creators of multiple narrative fabrications and factual inaccuracies. Alas, Green Book’s twist-filled awards season narrative is far more engaging than the film itself. It’s essentially a crude race-swap riff on Driving Miss Daisy, which casts Tony (Viggo Mortensen) as a mildly racist meathead with a heart of gold, and Don (Mahershala Ali) as the exemplary black man destined to guide his uncouth employee towards enlightenment, as the pair embark on a concert tour across the Jim Crow-era Deep South. What saves it from being a total waste of time is the two commanding central performances. Mortensen relishes the opportunity to ham it up as a wise-cracking oaf, while Ali’s Don is compellingly multifaceted. But ultimately, this slice of idealistic schmaltz feels woefully simplistic given the precarious current state of race relations in America.
Green Book | Directed by Peter Farrelly (US 2018) with Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali. Starts January 31.
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