Monday, November 19, 2018

Movie with Abe: Green Book

Green Book
Directed by Peter Farrelly
Released November 16, 2018

Stereotypes exist in society about nearly every type of person. While some can involve dedication, hard work, or other positive qualities, they are often used to hold people back, striking down achievements by trying to remind those who have accomplished something that, historically, someone who looks or sounds like them should be expected to fulfill another fate. Breaking through stereotypes can be rewarding, but is also usually met with incredulity and anger from those who prefer to have everyone easily defined by generalized characteristics and trends that may be derogatory and diminishing to a committed individual.

In 1962 New York City, Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) works as a bouncer to support his family, always getting the job done even if he gets a few punches in on too many occasions. When his club closes for renovations, he applies for a job as a driver for Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), a talented concert pianist who is headed into the Deep South for an eight-week tour. The notion of working for a black man doesn’t sit well with Tony, but as the offer appeals and he begins the job, he realizes that he’s exactly the right fit for this work, which involves a considerable amount of eye-opening for the lifelong Italian-American Bronx resident who has never really been able to understand what racism is.

This is ultimately the story of an unlikely friendship, one that builds from incredible differences. Much of Tony’s own growth comes from being looked at the wrong way for the situation in which he’s inserted himself, opening the door for a black man who’s much better dressed than him. His lack of sophistication is also his charm, as his constant eating and less-than-winning grammatical ability gradually endear him to the buttoned-up, high-class Don, who, thanks to Tony, begins to relax and appreciate some of the less fine things in life. They get into deep conversations about what it means to be who they are, and go through experiences that surprise them both. It’s a heartwarming story that has the added benefit of being mostly true.

Mortensen, whose last film role in “Captain Fantastic” cast him as an eccentric father raising his kids in the wilderness, does a superb job of making Tony into a man who leans into the stereotypes about Italian-Americans, rising to anger when they’re lobbed at him negatively and proudly indulging in those he enjoys, like food. Ali, who won an Oscar for his moving turn as a surrogate parent in “Moonlight,” is subdued and straight-laced as someone who defies everything anyone expects about him, which has caused him to become isolated from those who look like him and not entirely accepted by those who don’t. Together, they’re a fine pair, anchoring an entirely successful dramatic departure from director Peter Farrelly’s previous work. This is both a funny and affecting film, one that navigates its subject matter smartly and optimistically.


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