Neither black nor white (Green Book movie review)

Tony, a working-class Italian-American bouncer (great Viggo Mortensen), after losing a job as a body guard in one of New York clubs, becomes a chauffeur of an extravagant African-American musician (very good Mahershala Ali) that represents upper classes. Together they set out on a two-month long tour, during which they both will have to face racial and class prejudices and stereotypes and find in each other not only human beings, but also friends. “Green Book”, directed by Peter Farrelly, is a typical example of road cinema, which dramaturgy is based on the internal metamorphosis of the protagonists, that here is put in a frame of a beautiful, but at the same time almost pretentiously sentimental, tale about unobvious and sometimes tough friendship with important, although banal, lesson of tolerance and importance of diversity.

In opening parts of “Green Book” the director makes pretty obvious that Tony is a product of racist times that he lives in, which is symbolized by the scene in which he throws away glasses that were used by dark-skinned plumbers. Mortensen creates a portrait of an ordinary, pretty vulgar and rough, who at the same time remain a stand-up guy with a huge heart, and who makes simple, but also kind of brilliant notes on the reality around. Dr. Shirley, on the contrary, is a sophisticated gentleman, who – as we will find out a bit later – suffers from double social exclusion: he plays for white, rich people, who see in him a human being only when he sits behind his piano, but is also not very welcome in the black community, because he is living a life of upper white class.

The virtuoso decides to play in the far South – where racism is vibrating more strongly than anywhere else in States. The titled “green book” is a list of places – hotels, roads etc. – where black people can appear or stop to get some rest. Holding it, Tony goes for the most important trip in his life – for the first time he will see the beauty of the world behind his district, but also – and more importantly – he will also experience the power of racism that will change his heart and mind forever. For Dr. Shirley this trip will also turn into life-changing experience – he will understand that the world that he so badly wants to belong to might not be the best of all possible places and that social margin can offer much more than dreamed upper class.

It’s important to highlight that “Green Book” cannot be treated as an ambitious film essay on racism and identity problems and that its creators don’t even seen to have such aspiration. They make very clear that their movie is a parable that should move hearts and it really does. Fortunately, the movie is touching, but not melodramatic; its bitter-sweet, but has nothing in common with a tear-jerker. On the contrary, some dialogues – that are by the way the strongest part of the entire production – are ridiculously funny; others are simply heart-melting and somehow make this movie, which is composed of rather obvious clichés, a pretty original narration.

Obviously, the miraculous transformation of the protagonist is thinly disguised, but it perfectly fits the entire concept of the movie – its aesthetics, humour, and convention. Tony is a character that comes from fairy tales and parables, when his friend seems to more serious and dramatic. Ali makes dilemmas and problems of his character – a successful man who has sensitivity and complex of the victim – truly moving without using any of exaggerated, theatrical gestures. Nevertheless, it’s Mortensen, who steals the show. The scene in which Tony – with his ridiculously opened and wrinkled face – starts understand sources of Shirley’s suffering is kitschy and beautiful at the same time. He makes us want to believe that somewhere in there are people like him – rough, simple guys who suddenly open their eyes and start to understand that white, homogenous world is a disabled, sad place that needs to be repaired.