* * * * ½
(Funny, odd-couple tale of racism)
Rhode Island's own Peter Farrelly, who with his brother has directed some pretty silly movies, has come up with our favorite movie so far this year. Watch out, Academy Awards!
"Green Book" is the story of Tony Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensonen), an unsophisticated, tough Italian-American Copacabana bouncer, who takes a job as driver/bodyguard for a sophisticated, African-American concert pianist (Dr. Don Shirley) embarking on a two-month tour of the Deep South in 1962.
Inspired by a true story, Green Book is filled with historical social statements, giving us a feel for the difficult conditions for African Americans, especially in the south.
The title of the movie refers to an actual book written by an African-American, documenting hotels, motels, restaurants and other facilities where the "coloreds" could patronize, in addition to Sundown towns where they couldn't be seen at night for fear of arrest. (We know of an African-American minister friend who had that experience just last year.)
There are some tense moments as the two men travel deeper and deeper into the south, where Dr. Shirley played for rich white audiences and was treated royally while on stage, but couldn't use their bathrooms, eat in their restaurants or patronize their stores. That's the serious side of the story.
You'll cheer as Tony takes care of his employer as the two opposites learn much from each other. The growing relationship, sharing of different cultures and upbringing slowly turns misunderstanding into empathy and true friendship.
Each has a narrow assessment of each other's race. Dr. Shirley has never eaten fried chicken, let alone use an outhouse marked for "colored.” Tony doesn't know how to express himself in letters written to his wife. They teach each other both practical and cultural things in some of the best and funniest dialogue you will ever hear in a movie.
In spite of the serious subject of prejudice, this is one funny movie, breaking down barriers and misinformation. Mortensen and Mahershala are so very good in their roles, you will wish a Best Actor Oscar for both of them. We can't remember leaving a movie so fulfilled.
Rated PG-13, with some profanity, racial epithets and one very subtle sexual reference.