I became aware of “Green Book” just before the holidays, when a couple of my friends mentioned it was worth catching at the theater. While I was surprised to learn the film was directed by Peter Farrelly of the Farrelly Brothers — known for comedies such as “Dumb and Dumber” and “There’s Something about Mary” — I was not surprised that the film centered on one of the duo’s favorite conventions from their early work: the road trip.

“Green Book” charts the relationship of Tony Vallelonga, an Italian-American bouncer played by Viggo Mortensen, and Don Shirley, an African-American classical and jazz pianist played by Mahershala Ali. Despite the enthralling performances of the film’s leads, Farrelly’s vision is ultimately undone by a weak script.

The film recounts Tony’s time working as Don’s driver during his two-month-long concert tour through the Deep South. From the get-go, Don’s impeccably polished persona contrasts sharply with Tony’s carefree, gritty nature. Yet, as Tony’s experiences with Don start to quell his racial biases, the two men are able to navigate their differences with an endearing simplicity that establishes chemistry and evolves into friendship. While Don derives a greater appreciation for life’s small pleasures from Tony’s energy and joie de vivre, Tony’s motivation shifts from solely money-driven loyalty to heartfelt companionship, becoming a true pillar of support and protection for Don.

Perhaps the film’s greatest triumph is the way Mortensen and Ali take ownership over the material, grounding the film not only in the evolution of their characters’ relationship, but in its playfulness. Ali’s sheer command over every word and action paired with Mortensen’s exuberant lack of self-awareness makes for some excellent humor and tender moments. For example, Don takes it upon himself to help Tony write poetic love letters to his wife back home. The personal integrity both characters maintain allows them to exchange stories, share wisdom when necessary and actively observe and understand the points where their lives diverge and connect.

Unfortunately, a subpar script ultimately throws a wrench in the film’s side and, therefore, its ability to be taken seriously. While Mortensen and Ali develop genuine chemistry, their performances are impaired by the writing, which is weighed down by clichés. Writers Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie and Farrelly spin nearly every scene into overdone teaching moments, hampering the authenticity of the characters’ bond and creating an atmosphere of predictability. Almost every scene incorporates some form of Don urging Tony to elevate himself or Tony encouraging Don to loosen up, and ends with the two men meeting each other halfway.

One moment noticeably breaks away from this pattern toward the end of the film. As Tony and Don are heading home in the snow, they are pulled over by a police officer. When I saw this scene in the theater, the audience was rife with tension, expecting a confrontation with an aggressive and hostile white cop. Instead, the officer provides words of guidance for navigating the snowy roads, which prompted a physical sigh of relief from the audience. This scene represents one of the only moments in which there is no give-and-take between the two main characters — the scene provides no compromise, only a shared sense of reassurance and hope.

Beyond this scene, the writing is overly self-conscious, which does not allow for any new insights to blossom along the film’s course — as if a road map had been drawn up for the audience to peruse before accompanying Tony and Don on their way.

While “Green Book” offers a heartwarming cinematic experience, those in search of depth and innovation should take this film with a rather large grain of salt or simply look elsewhere. Modest by nature, “Green Book” understands its role in the film community: While it will by no means change the world, there is certainly room for an uplifting crowd-pleaser in today’s climate of bleak cynicism.

Olivia Simon is a senior in the School of Foreign Service. Director’s Cut appears in print every other Friday.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *