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Review: Green Book (TIFF 2018)

Green Book (TIFF 2018)
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PLOT: In the early sixties, a famous pianist, Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) agrees to a tour of the Deep South, hiring a loosely connected wiseguy, Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) to be his driver and bodyguard.

REVIEW: It’s funny how something totally conventional and mainstream can almost feel like a tonic at a place like TIFF. So many movies come in with dreams of Oscar glory that the pleasures of a simple crowdpleaser seem secondary, but TIFF has always been a festival that keeps a good balance of both. GREEN BOOK is another ace in the hole that should prove to be a major audience favourite, boding well for its mainstream release via Universal.

It provides a major change-of-pace for both Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali, with it being an old-fashioned studio buddy flick that gets a lot of mileage off their terrific chemistry. It helps that this true story is a doozy, with Shirley already a famous figure, while Tony Lip, aka Tony Vallelonga, later in life became a mainstay of nineties gangster movies such as GOODFELLAS, DONNIE BRASCO, and “The Sopranos," where he played Big Carmine. Who knew he had had these kinds of adventures on the road?


Well, son Nick Vallelonga must have grown up hearing them, with him producing and co-writing with Brian Hayes Currie and director Peter Farrelly, for whom this marks a major return to form. Opting for a fun wiseguy feel that plunges us into the familiar mobbed-up Jersey world, it starts off almost feeling like a Sopranos prequel (in a good way) as we get to know Lip, who works as a bouncer at the Copa, while avoiding constant offers to join crews, as he prefers to make his living in a more honest way.

Lip is a terrific character for Mortensen to sink his teeth into. Rarely has he seemed to be having more fun, displaying a flair for comedy as the streetwise Lip finds himself plunged into Shirley’s arty-world, which includes an apartment above Carnegie Hall decorated in African art. He’s not without prejudice, but he’s shown to be an essentially good-hearted guy, and the slow warming up between him and Shirley never feels forced.

Mortensen sports a massive belly for the part, while Ali, by contrast, is lower-key, but very different from the tougher parts we know him for as the erudite, sensitive Shirley. Him and Mortensen seems to genuinely like each other, making their relationship easier to buy and the chemistry is on point. The movie explores prejudice in the deep south by showing Lip gradually get awakened to the realities of the world outside his neighbourhood, but it does so in a way that’s for more in line with something like THE HELP than a harsher film like BLINDSPOTTING. This might make it a bit of a lightening rod for criticism among those who’ll say it’s too soft, but it can’t be denied that will have a massive audience appeal other movies tackling similar subject matter won’t.

While Farrelly is maybe a bit indulgent in his 130 minute running time, GREEN BOOK is throughly entertaining throughout. While the guys anchor the film, the great Linda Cardellini has a gem of a part as Lip’s loving wife, who knows this trip, despite taking him away from his family, will open her husband's eyes in a way she can’t.

One final note - I saw this movie at a TIFF press screening halfway through the fest. At this point, journalists are cranky and tend to be harder on the movies they’re watching as they’re going on very little sleep and have already seen so many good movies that by this point it’s hard for anything to stand out. Not so with GREEN BOOK. The audience roared with laughter throughout and gave it the strongest round of applause I’ve heard outside of A STAR IS BORN. To me, this is a sure sign that the movie works for even the most cynical audiences, and I predict it’ll be a major sleeper hit in the months ahead. It’s a charmer.


 

Source: JoBlo.com

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