Green Book drives along a smooth road with minimal narrative bumps. I'm going to start my review a little differently, addressing many criticisms about the racial issues that are "glossed over". Not every film has to be a harrowing depiction of segregation where characters are brutally harmed. Much like in Farrelly's case here, a lighter approach can still produce the same intentions and profound awareness without detracting from the main story itself. That is why I believe Green Book is a resounding success. The racial discrimination is an environmental factor that brings these two opposing personalities closer together, focusing on a story about friendship. Inspired by the true story of Don Shirley, an ingeniously talented pianist, hiring an Italian-American bouncer to be his driver and bodyguard as they tour the deep south. They use "The Negro Motorist Green Book" to find hospitality establishments that would accommodate African-American travellers.
The beauty of this straight-forward plot is these two differing characters coming together during a heightened discriminatory phase within society. A white tough-talking brash bouncer who was born and raised in the family orientated Bronx borough, who's narrow point of view makes him a casual racist much like the rest of white Americans at the time, journeys with a black wealthy uptight lonely pianist for a couple of months. It is as formulaic as one would expect, and you know exactly how the film will conclude. Yet, the earnest friendship that blossoms between these two individuals, is something that unexpectedly enveloped me in pure joy. Shirley's acute diction and dignifying mannerisms allows Vallelonga to adopt these traits and make him a better human being. He starts to show compassion and understanding for Shirley, not just as a black employer but as a friend. Conversely Vallelonga provides company for Shirley who often succumbs to loneliness, and soon finds that he has found someone who understands him. Vallelonga's innocent naivety is the key that unlocks Shirley's door of solitude. It is a near-perfect depiction of professional companionship, a friendship I never knew I wanted until now.
What enables these characters to bloom in the Louisiana sun is a surprisingly well-written screenplay that boasts humour and character development. The barrage of witty humour makes up for the lack of dramatic scenes, and actually allows us to connect with these typically closed individuals. Through their banter we instantly start to identify specific characteristics that make them tick, for example Vallelonga has one heck of an appetite and does not stop talking. Meanwhile Shirley's uptight persona means he often lectures Vallelonga on morally correct life choices and attempting to improve his lexicon. The scene where they share a bucket of Kentucky fried chicken is a perfect illustration of two characters breaking each other down and forming a bond. The added attention to Vallelonga's hearty family (wait, was that Velma from 'Scooby-Doo'!?) makes that last scene even more palpable, leaving a profound emotion of pure happiness. However, none of the above could come to fruition if it wasn't for Mortensen and Ali's performances. They were outstanding. Ali in particular gave so much to his character without resorting to melodrama. Subtle touches, like sitting cross legged, asserted Shirley's mannerisms. Mortensen really came into his own here also, and felt a real natural chemistry between himself and Ali. Farrelly's direction, although nothing outstanding, was decent at ensuring the light-hearted tone was consistent throughout.
Many have remarked that this is essentially 'Driving Miss Daisy' but with the races switched for its characters, which is a fair comment and a valid reason as to why it is a formulaic story. And sure some additional drama could've been included to, not necessarily enhance the awareness of racial issues, but the initial conflict between these two opposing characters. Still, it's a delicate film about understanding. Two individuals from opposite backgrounds (both in wealth and race) forming a beautiful friendship on the basis of mutual respect for one another. Plenty of smiles, laughs and general entertainment to be had. So sit back, relax and enjoy the long comfortable drive.