MOVIE REVIEW: Road trip hits the right notes
Director: Peter Farrelly
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini
Running time: 130 minutes
Verdict: A superbly executed duet
A ROAD movie with Viggo Mortensen at the wheel? Even at this early point, you know you can sit back and relax.
The actor-painter-poet piled on 20kg to play Italian-American bouncer Tony Vallelonga in Green Book, a smooth-running comedy-drama based on a true story and co-written by the lead character's son. The extra weight gives Mortensen a stocky physical density that serves the filmmakers well.
Vulgar, uncouth and too quick with his fists, Vallelonga - better known to his mates and associates as Tony Lip on account of his bullshit artistry - isn't your average driver.
But he's got the skillset African-American pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) requires to survive a 1962 tour of the Deep South, where bars, hotels and restaurants are still segregated.
Why would a celebrated classical musician at the height of his career voluntarily subject himself to two months on the road as a second-class citizen, playing for a bunch of wealthy racists who refuse to share the same bathroom?
The answer is almost as complicated as Shirley himself - a wealthy, educated gentleman who speaks at least three languages and lives above Carnegie Hall in an extravagantly decorated apartment complete with elephant tusks and a throne.
As they travel from New York City to Alabama, the uneducated Bronx bruiser and his genteel employer have plenty of time to swap notes.
Shirley teaches Vallelonga to enunciate, hold his temper, and compose love letters to his wife Dolores (Linda Cardellini).
Vallelonga introduces Shirley to Kentucky Fried Chicken, greasy fingers and the music of Chubby Checker, Little Richard and Aretha Franklin (in a scene that suggests a good deal of creative licence, given the musical influences present in the popular tunes Shirley performs at the direction of his record label).
An unlikely friendship develops as the two men overcome a series of obstacles that mark familiar stops on the road movie map.
There's an ugly bar room brawl with white supremacists, a series of run-ins with racist police officers, and an overnight stint in a county jail (although not many musicians can call upon a favour from Attorney-General Robert Kennedy to set matters right).
Green Book, which takes its title from a handbook for black motorists seeking a "vacation without aggravation" in the Deep South, might be as familiarly structured as a 12-bar blues song. But the execution is pretty much flawless, anchored by a relaxed chemistry between the two leads, both of whom relish the chance to show a different side to their screen personas.
As does director Peter Farrelly, best known until now for gross-out comedies such as Something About Mary and Dumb and Dumber.
Mortensen, rarely seen in comic roles, plays the buffoon like a virtuoso. And Ali (Moonlight) finds dignity in the most unlikely of places.
A warm-hearted crowd pleaser.