Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini
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…applies a light touch and precision…dealing with racial prejudice, has sizeable relevance in today’s market.
Peter Farrelly isn’t a subtle creative. Building a reputation with his brother Bobby for a particularly crass brand of romantic comedy, he has had a hand in genuine classics (Dumb & Dumber), duds (The Three Stooges) and was a driving force behind Movie 43, one of the greatest examples of just how far Hollywood can sink.
Farrelly also has a subtle knack for championing minorities, primarily those with intellectual disabilities. In films like Dumb & Dumber and Me, Myself & Irene, it’s the supposedly ‘normal’ people made into fools, not those that they deem stupid for one reason or another.
With his latest feature, based on the real-life story of pianist Don Shirley and his driver/bodyguard Tony Lip’s ‘60s tour of the American South, Farrelly taps into a similar sentiment to create a remarkably subtle piece of race-centric cinema.
As we follow Don and Tony, played with uncanny chemistry by Mahershala Ali (Moonlight, House of Cards) and Viggo Mortensen respectively, their views on the race relations landscape hits all the major points: the necessity for the guide book that gives the film its name to find safe spaces for African-Americans, the double-standards towards Don as a performer unable to dine at the clubs he plays at, and the outright courage required to be shown great indignities and still resist the urge to deck people.
This is all aided by the sense of humour on display, which shows Farrelly and co-writers Brian Hayes Currie and Nick Vellelonga (son of the real-life Tony) taking a far less vulgar route to chuckles than the Farrelly norm. Relying just as much on wiseguy antics courtesy of Tony as it does the numerous Don’s fish out of water (too dark-toned to be accepted by white society, yet too well-off to be accepted by his fellow man), it makes for poignant humour that helps with the film’s main points regarding racial and classist tensions.
And yet, none of this feels like it exists solely to prove a point, as righteous as that point may be. It shows Don’s cultural anxieties, Tony’s attitudes that vary from well-meaning to outright ignorant, yet it avoids the pitfall of turning either of them into walking billboards for the film’s message.
Much like Don’s ability behind the piano, the film applies a light touch and precision to deliver a piece of art that, as is unfortunately the case with a lot of films dealing with racial prejudice, has sizeable relevance in today’s market.