Last night, I saw it. Yes, I know this is election day, and other things are on most people's minds. But I bring up the movie now because...well, it's better than I was hoping. Actually, in fairness, that's not really correct -- more proper is to say that it's significantly better than I was hoping. And that's coming from a starting point of having said three months ago, "I can't wait to see it."
The film is inspired by a true story about a New York City bouncer at the Copacabana night club who is hired to drive brilliant black jazz pianist Don Shirley on his tour through the deep South in 1962. The title comes from the guidebook that would let black people know where they could eat and sleep, or get gas when traveling through the South in the days before Civil Rights. It stars Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali (who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in Moonlight), and they're both absolutely terrific, in complete opposite ways -- the former throwing caution to the wind (gaining 45 pounds for the role), the other profoundly restrained, yet both full of deep emotion, showing how they each impacted one another's lives. It's surprising directed (and superbly so) by Peter Farrelly. -- the surprise being that he is one of the two Farrelly Brothers, who made such "stupid comedies" as Dumb and Dumber; There's Something About Mary; Me, Myself and Irene, Kingpin, Shallow Hal and more. And exquisitely written by Farrelly, Brian Currie, and Nick Vallelonga...who is the real-life son of the character played by Viggo Mortensen. Three months ago I wrote that I'm sure many reviews will refer to it as "Driving Mr. Daisy," which is somewhat apt, but the story takes its own left turn down a little-used road. It's a serious, thoughtful drama, but often very funny, with the humor coming from the characters, not jokes. It takes a while to set up the film, both in New York and the early part of their trip on the road -- though to be very clear, it's not slow at all during that period, but terrific -- however then there are some plot turns, and it kicks into high gear, richer, more serious, more thoughtful and more joyful.
There's much more than I'd like to say, but this is a Capsule Review, so I'll leave it at that.
What I'll add is about the screening at the Writers Guild, which had a Q&A afterwards by the three writers. It not only got sustained applause throughout the credits, but also is one of the two or three films I've ever seen at the Guild where the writers got a standing ovation when they showed up for the questions afterwards. Nick Vallelonga said that he'd wanted to make the film since he was 15, and got the approval and support to do so years later from his father and Don Shirley, who stayed friends for 50 years -- though the musician had the one condition that it not be made until after he died, which he did in 2013, just months from when Tony Vallelonga himself passed away. His son has no idea why Shirley set that condition, for his own reasons. The film is based on hours of interviews that son had with father, and then later confirmed all the tales with Don Shirley, which overlapped closely, though from different perspectives. In fact, it's that relationship which shaped the movie -- the filmmakers said they chose not to put the racism upfront, but (though it's very much there and often viscerally) instead deal with the two characters as its core. One funny moment -- when talking about the title of the movie, Nick Vallelonga said his original title was Love Letters to Dolores. At that moment, Peter Farrelly turned to the audience and said, "But I wanted guys to see it."
The trailer does the movie justice. With one caveat -- the film is even better.