Green Book is a very charming, humorous film that brings to life a wonderful friendship. In the months since the film debuted on the festival circuit, its been criticized in a number of fashions for its somewhat simplistic themes and message, and while there’s some truth to that, I think there’s value in a film like this. The message is universal and its a film that appeals to all ages with its beautiful story, and the humanity and humor of the story comes from its wonderful characters.
Based on a true story, the film follows Tony Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen), a working class Italian-American man who’s hired as a driver for Dr. Donald Shirley (Mahershala Ali), a black piano player going on tour in the deep south. Yes, the story goes in a direction that may be familiar, but Mortensen and Ali are so goddamn charming that the story is irresistible. Mortensen nails the eccentric, physical comedy required to play the bumbling jokester, and Ali plays the perfect straight man who’s also there to deliver the emotional punch.
The structure of the film is effective, as we track the progress of the characters over the course of their tour, and the film sets up a key moment that develops one of the two at each stop along the way. These are either genuinely charming emotional beats or just gags, but either way the film sucks you in. I also love the brief appearances of Tony’s wife, played by Linda Cardellini; it may be a fairly straightforward role, but it makes Tony a more personable character other than just being a goofy oaf.
I think Green Book works because of how universal its story is, and while the phrase “crowd pleaser” may be overused, this is the type of film that makes you want to stand up and cheer. Watching these two characters learn from each other is the type of old-fashioned story that we go to the movies for, and I can’t deny that I left the theater overjoyed by the charms of its Christmas conclusion. Grade: A