FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 16, 2018 -- In its simplest form, Peter Farrelly's latest film is merely a road movie. Two people with opposite characters set out on a long road trip and build an unlikely relationship. Prime examples are "Nebraska" (2012), "Star Man" (1984), "Grandma" (2015), and on the humorous side "The Guilt Trip" (2012).


Just about all of them end with the moral lesson that we are all more alike than different. Farrelly (yes the guy who directed "There's Something About Mary" and "Dumb and Dumber") breaks away from his brother Bobby to present a road movie with a history lesson that fits in with current events.


He casts an amusingly overweight Viggo Mortensen as an early 60s Italian Brooklynite who works as a bouncer at a mob-run nightclub. He goes by Tony Lip mainly because he has a fairly long, difficult to pronounce surname. He and his wife Dolores (Linda Cardellini) have a couple of kids and live a comfortable but gritty life. Tony falls in line with the rest of the neighborhood with a dislike for black folk; you learn that immediately when he displays disappointment with Dolores' decision to higher a couple of black plumbers to fix her sink. Tony's reaction is to toss out the drinking glasses they used for water.

Fortunes take an immediate hit when the nightclub shuts down for remodeling, leaving Tony out of work. But he quickly gets a tip on a job as a driver of a musician. Low and behold, the musician is a Negro named Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) who lives in a museum quality apartment over Carnegie Hall. Don is a classically trained pianist who performs popular-tune concerts with his trio. After immediate resistance by both parties, a deal was reached with Shirley's record company footing the bill.


The trip is going to take them initially through the Midwest, but then venture into the South - deep Jim Crow South. Shirley has agreed to a series of concerts and needs some muscle to see the contract through. In fact, that is the only stipulation in the contract, that Tony deliver Don on time to every gig.


Tony is giving a Green Book to use when they get to the South to help avoid problems. The Negro Motorist Green Book was a book published in the 50s and 60s for black folk traveling around the United States, it pointed out safe hotels and motels as well as sundown towns (towns where Negroes could be arrested if out after dark).


They set off in the provided Cadillac with Don making clear all the things that he requires from Tony and Tony explaining what he won't do. Don is very refined and Tony is...a Brooklyn Italian; a classic case of Oranges and Sour Apples. Predictably things go as scheduled including the change in hospitality once the get into the South. After staying in premium hotels in Pittsburgh and the Northern towns, Don is forced to stay in substandard motels in the south while his help got to stay in the better hotels. There are conflicts with locals and local police.


The film contains well place moments of levity but sticks close to the more serious story of real Southern segregation seen for the first time by the Italian. Both men get chances to learn from each other - Don teaches Tony how to write a proper letter to his wife; Tony teaches Don what real black soul music is all about. Don teaches Tony about finessing with influence, Tony teaches finessing with street smarts. The movie teaches a forgotten reading material and segregated travel.


Viggo is great as the tough as nails Tony Lip with his gut hanging over his belt like an out of shape Jake LaMotta. Mahershala is perfect as the prima donna uber-cultered Don Shirley whose battling his own kind of loneliness. But Cardelinni adds the perfect touch as the sweet as pie Italian wife.


The staging and cinematography are terrific as the film goes from grubby looking Northern cites to pristine country panoramas that hide the ugly side of America.


"Green Book" is a terrifically presented history lesson disguised as a road trip movie. It tells a story that few African American baby boomers will remember and black millennials know at all.   -- GRADE A-  --   GEOFF BURTON