To the surprise of everyone (who was able to avoid social media at least!) the surprise film at London Film Festival this year was Green Book; the Peter Farrelly (Yes, a Farrelly brother) directed film based on the true story of musician Don Shirley.
With the leading roles played by two actors synonymous with awards success – Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen – those in the know were already expecting great things from this film, and to those who perhaps were less aware, this film did indeed turn out to be a surprise in more ways than one.
Anchored by two fantastic leading performances, Green Book is a heartfelt, charming, and endlessly watchable film about friendship, differences, race, music, and family. A possibly strange comparison to make but it comes across as a slightly higher calibre Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, Ali and Mortensen having a natural “odd couple” friendship, and with the plot focused towards making it home in time for the Holidays evoking the spirit of the aforementioned 1987 comedy classic.
What Green Book has that gives it the edge, however, is much greater thematic richness, and whilst on the surface level it is an odd couple-road movie, the issues of race and identity are also explored in beautiful ways. Don Shirley (Ali) is an enigmatic character, but behind the outward displays of wealth is a man whose music is considered “too white” to those of his shared heritage, and the colour of his skin is something which still leads to him being openly discriminated against. The “green book” of the title refers to the guide that Mortensen’s driver to Shirley, Tony, is handed, which provides guidance on appropriate hotels and restaurants that Shirley would be welcomed into.
Initially, Tony is seen as quite prejudiced and it is his journey throughout this film is an incredibly interesting one. Both characters in fact have arcs that are incredibly different, yet they tie so beautifully together in tandem, with a certain musicality that seems fitting for the subject matter. Tony is a tough guy, a family man, but also a man who fails to see a world much beyond his locale. Don, on the other hand, is well travelled, but also incredibly closed off to those around him. He gives off the air of someone who doesn’t want to open up to people and would much prefer to keep himself to himself.
Of course with a film like this there is some degree of predictability. We know the characters are going to see some growth and change throughout the course of the film, barriers will be broken down, and they’ll emerge on the other side as changed men. However, despite all of that, Green Book remains incredibly charming throughout. There is a bounce and an exuberance to the film, with a natural chemistry between the two leads. It really is impossible not to fall in love with this film.
Mahershala Ali, building on his incredible performance in Moonlight, gives probably the best performance of his career so far. There is such preciseness to his movements and facial expressions, and it takes a great deal of skill to make a character which initially seems so cold, to be instantly likeable. Viggo Mortensen is transformative in the role of Tony, fully embracing the brashness and larger than life persona of the character he is playing, and it is simply a joy to watch the two of them together.
Bolstered by incredible performances, wonderful chemistry, and thematic richness, Green Book is one of the best feel-good films you will see all year. It’ll warm your heart and help you to see the goodness and joy there is in the world. And frankly, that’s something we all need right now.
Directed by: Peter Farrelly
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Linda Cardellini, Mahershala Ali