Sunday, December 09, 2018

Movies: Green Book

Around this time of year, studios start flooding the market with Oscar bait, and one of the go-to categories to cover is character-driven historical drama dealing with racial prejudice. That's not a bad thing per se, but the movies cut from this cloth range from the sublime ("12 Years A Slave") to the syrupy ("Selma"). Is "Green Book" the former or the latter?

As you can see, the film's both a figurative and literal vehicle for stars Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali to garner some recognition come awards time. The title comes from the Negro Motorist Green Book by Victor Hugo Green, a guide listing places that welcomed African-American travelers (a sad relic from the age of Jim Crow and segregation, when walking into the wrong restaurant while black could be deadly). 

In the movie, "Tony Lip" Vallelonga, a rough-and-tumble Italian-American bouncer from the Bronx, signs on as the chauffeur and de facto bodyguard to Don Shirley, a sophisticated Carnegie Hall pianist playing a concert tour of the Deep South. They'll encounter corrupt cops, fight hostile hillbillys, and help each other discover the best versions of themselves.

You've seen this odd couple road trip story before (it's basically an inverted "Driving Miss Daisy" meets "Planes, Trains, & Automobiles"), but "Green Book" still works despite its formulaic setup and low-stakes plot. There's a ton of laugh-out-loud humor, and both leads give top-notch performances that really elevate the movie. If you need some feel-good awards season drama, you could do a lot worse than this.

Rating: 8/10


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