Green Book does represent Driving Miss Daisy in reverse with its story. Like that 1989 film, it also has a Best Picture Oscar and an unexpected one at that. This isn’t in the top-tier of movies to receive that honor, but it is an often effective and very well-acted tale of an unlikely friendship.
Viggo Mortensen is Tony “Lip” Vallelonga, a bouncer at the famed Copacabana in New York City circa 1962. The club is closing for renovations over the holidays. Hungry for work (and literally hungry all the time), he accepts a job as chauffeur for notable concert pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali). Doctor Shirley lives above another Big Apple landmark – Carnegie Hall.
This union of an unrefined Italian-American and erudite African-American brings them to the Deep South. The era often puts the boss in Colored Only hotels and the employee in nicer ones. The title refers to an actual book which instructed black travelers where they could stay.
Tony and Shirley are real life figures as well. As portrayed by Mortensen and Ali, the actors form a genuine chemistry. The eight week tour is scheduled to end just before Christmas and Tony is determined to make it home for the holiday with his wife (Linda Cardellini) and large brood. Shirley is a loner with loose connections to family. In this sense, the plot actually resembles Planes, Trains, and Automobiles – albeit with less comedic overtones.
Green Book is directed by Peter Farrelly, who’s only known for material meant to make you laugh (Dumb and Dumber and There’s Something About Mary are the best of them). There are light moments, especially in the first half. The screenplay grows gradually more serious as the duo’s trek takes them to Alabama for the finale and the racist traditions become more pronounced.
This picture doesn’t break any new ground with its subject matter. It’s more of an amiable concentration on this alliance with two fine performers playing them. Those looking for something more weighty might be disappointed, but I felt the leads cause this to be a ride worth taking.
*** (out of four)