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The Odd Couple

Saturday, November 24, 2018
By Deepa Gahlot

Green Book
Director:
Peter Farrelly
Cast: Mahershala Ali, Viggo Mortensen and others
Rating: * * * 1/2

As long as race is a burning issue in the US (and the world), a film like Green Book will resonate with audiences. The crowd-pleasing buddy movie, with superbly written and delivered banter between the two terrific actors, has enough serious substance, that it puts across without belligerence. Surprisingly, it has been directed by Peter Farrelly, going solo after making comedies like Dumb And Dumber and There’s Something About Mary with his brother Bobby.

The film, based on a true story, is set in 1962, when racial segregation was still being practiced in the US. A talented musician, Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), is the epitome of sophistication and erudition, but going against all stereotypes, he is black.

When planning a tour of the Deep South, he feels the need for a white driver-cum-bodyguard, and hires Tony Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen), an Italian-American bouncer, who in matters of breeding and culture is like the stereotypical ghetto black. Tony is a family man, but also a racist street smart hood, always ready to eat or to fight.

As Tony drives Shirley’s the swanky Cadillac, while the boss lounges in the back seat, there is no doubt about the class barriers between the two, which will break down gradually as the film proceeds. Shirley learns the joys of eating fried chicken, and the uneducated Tony learns to write a coherent love letter to his wife. But they also face problems caused by intolerance, and deal with some hard knocks together.

Ironically, the impeccably dressed and well-spoken Shirley is not allowed to dine or stay at the kind of places where he plays for white audiences. The signs that “For Colored Only” also indicate the injustices a man like Shirley faces in the South. Covering up the depressing truth of racial bigotry with humour hardly makes it bearable. A powerful scene has Shirley forlornly questioning his racial identity.

The title comes from Victor Hugo Green’s The Negro Motorist Green Book, published between 1936-1966 as a guide for black travellers about where they could stay and eat in the days before racial integration.

With the two perfectly cast actors giving it all they’ve got, the heartwarming film—conventional though it may be--—has already set off an Oscar buzz.

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