Awards season is nearly upon as, and with it comes the “Oscar bait” pictures. Think biopics, “based on a true story”, actors getting fat, actresses getting ugly, gender switching, sexuality switching, morality switching, and everything in between. But how about genre switching? Not the actors of course, those glorious chameleons can do anything - this question is for the directors. Remember ‘Dumb and Dumber’? ‘There’s Something About Mary’? Of course you do - they’re modern comedy classics. Remember the guys that made them? Well, it appears that the brotherly duo Bobby and Peter Farrelly have finally cut the cord as a writer/director team only, and while they still produce, Bobby is staying on the comedy path while Peter has surprised everyone with a dramatic turn. This is, of course, not the first time this has happened recently. Adam McKay, the guy who brought us ‘Anchorman’ and ‘Step Brothers’, turned heads in 2015 with awards favourite ‘The Big Short’. And this year he’s done it again with ‘Vice’. Then Todd Phillips, ‘The Hangover’ guy, gave us ‘War Dogs’ in 2016, with 2019 set to show what he can do with comic book material and a character icon of epic proportions with ‘Joker’. It’s often said that anyone can do drama but comedy is what separates the mice from men. This is, however, a trope often dragged out when the likes of Jim Carrey or Robin Williams decided to genre-bend, and just look at the wonders they created. But for filmmakers these days, it’s almost like a rebellion or perhaps a renaissance or sorts. The pigeon hole is being shattered, and the birds are flying free and absolutely killing it.
It’s 1962 New York, Tony Vallelonga aka Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen, ‘Captain Fantastic’) is working in “public relations” down at the Copacabana, just getting by keeping a roof over the heads and food on the table for his wife and two sons. When he’s offered a job to spend eight weeks driving piano virtuoso Dr Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali, ‘Moonlight’) on a tour through the Jim Crow South, the pair’s class and racial divide causes tension and ultimate acceptance on a journey neither one is soon to forget.
For a film that highlights past (and present) racial injustices, the central relationship of the film is surprisingly and refreshingly more about class than skin colour. Sure, Tony uses racial slurs that make you wince and commits a fews acts that cause you to shake your head, but you always know that deep down he’s a good man and his actions are the result of societal and communal influences and never malice. Meanwhile, Dr Shirley is a man stuck between many worlds, even remarking in one of the most powerful scenes of the film, “If I’m not black enough, and I’m not white enough, and I'm not man enough, then who am I?” I dare you not to openly sob during this moment.
Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen have created magic together.
Farrelly has created a multi-layered, textured piece of time and space that goes far deeper than anyone expects. Most films of this nature are rooted in a personal and emotional core of the filmmaker, pulling on their own experience to really drive the message and story home. And why wouldn’t they? Film is a powerful art form and storytelling vehicle. Being white, Farrelly can't bring that kind of rawness to the material, so he’s been forced to delve into his humanity and take the angle that all people know the difference between right and wrong, but not all people live by it. It’s an examination worth showcasing, and Farrelly does a remarkable and unexpected job.
Mortensen and Ali are both exquisite actors in their own right, but together they’ve created an onscreen partnership we never knew we wanted - or at the very least, needed. These spectacular actors have created magic together and the film, while possessing fabulous bones, would not have been the same without them. You’ll be seeing their names and this film a lot in the coming months in the lead-up to Hollywood’s night of nights.