Review: Green Book is an odd-couple story featuring electrifying performances

Crowd-pleasing TIFF People’s Choice Award winner stars Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen as unlikely friends in 1962

GREEN BOOK (Peter Farrelly). 130 minutes. Some subtitles. Opens Friday (November 16). See listing. Rating: NNNN 

Two months after winning the People’s Choice Award at TIFF, Green Book opens in theatres just in time for an Oscar run. I wouldn’t necessarily bet against it. 

Peter Farrelly’s first solo venture after decades of co-directing comedies with his brother Bobby, Green Book is a road movie, a buddy comedy and a prestige studio release all at once. You will know every beat as it happens, you will almost be able to mouth the dialogue along with the characters, and none of that matters because you get to watch Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali exist together, from one moment to the next, giving performances so textured and alive that they knock the film up the scale from “pretty good” to “goddamn transcendent.”

Ali is Don “Doc” Shirley, the renowned jazz pianist Mortensen is Tony Vallelonga, the small-time New York hustler Shirley hired to drive him through the Deep South on tour in the fall of 1962. Shirley was a cultured Black man who lived above Carnegie Hall Vallelonga was an Italian guy from the Bronx. They’re the original odd couple, and the movie plays it for all it’s worth: Doc bristles at Tony’s diction, Tony bristles right back at Doc’s snobbery. But darn it all if they weren’t the best of friends by the end of the trip.

Like I said, there’s never any doubt where Green Book is going, and Farrelly – who shares script credit with Tony’s son Nick and Brian Hayes Currie – makes sure it gets there as smoothly as possible. 

And while I suspect he simply got out of Mortensen and Ali’s way and let them figure out their chemistry and timing on their own, that’s the smartest thing he could have done. It’s a pleasure to watch them electrify this movie, and each other. 


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