Stars: Mahershala Ali, Viggo Mortensen, Linda Cardellini
This amiable comedy drama about the unlikely friendship that develops between a racist Italian American bouncer and an African American musician, based on a true story, may sound like a departure for Peter Farrelly (of gross-out comedy Farrelly brothers’ fame) but his trademark broadness is in evidence. It’s 1962 and Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga (Mortensen) is working as a bouncer at a Bronx nightclub. When the club is undergoing refurbishment, he finds himself unemployed. To Tony’s surprise he is offered a job as a bodyguard and driver for the genteel black jazz and classical pianist Dr. Don Shirley (Ali) who is about to embark on a tour of the South – Tony’s attitudes to race are established in an earlier sequence when he is shown throwing away a drinking glass his wife had given to a black delivery man. Nevertheless, Tony, strapped for cash, accepts and the two embark on a road trip with an odd couple friendship inevitably developing. The ice begins to thaw in an amusing sequence where Tony introduces ‘Doc’, as he calls Shirley, to fried chicken. The picture boasts a keen sense of time and place despite the sometimes obvious period signifiers. Mortensen, in a rare comedy role, brings a brusque charm to unreconstructed goombah Tony, while the ever-versatile Ali, in a less showy part, movingly conveys Shirley’s bruised pride as he undergoes indignities at the hands of racist southerners. It’s predictable stuff, with each plot beat and revelation arriving right on cue, but it’s a fun and occasionally touching ride nonetheless.