Green Book Image

Green Book

By Andy Howell | September 18, 2018

Green Book stars Mahershala Ali as pianist Don Shirley and Viggo Mortensen as his driver and bodyguard Tony Vallelonga aka Tony Lip, as the two tours the deep south in the 1960s.  It is based on a true story, co-written by Nick Vallelonga, Tony’s son. It was directed by Peter Farrelly of Farrelly Brothers fame. Though he’s primarily known for broad comedies like Dumb and Dumber, Green Book is a turn toward the more serious material.  It just won the People’s Choice award at the Toronto International Film Festival, which is usually an indicator that a film is headed for a Best Picture Academy Award nomination.

Green Book is something of a buddy road trip movie, though the two main characters are from such different worlds that they barely understand each other.  Shirley is educated and aristocratic, while Tony Lip is a barely literate bouncer. As they go through the deep south, of course, they encounter discrimination and segregation.  They have to rely on the Negro Motorist Green Book to find places that Shirley is allowed to stay, which are sometimes far shabbier than the places Tony can stay in.  Though it tackles serious subjects, the tone of Green Book is relatively lighthearted, with plenty of humor throughout, both in the form of disagreements between the driver and the musician and in Tony’s letters home to his wife Dolores (Linda Cardellini).

They have to rely on the Negro Motorist Green Book to find places that Shirley is allowed to stay...”

Tony is written as the stereotypical mob-connected Italian-American New Yorker, and I’d take it almost like a caricature if it weren’t written by his own son.  It the hands of a lesser actor it would be easy for this character to come across as a joke, but Viggo Mortensen gives him some depth. Since he often plays serious, violent guys, it is fun to see him here in a more playful role.  Mahershala Ali is always great, though as the straight man he doesn’t have quite as much to do. He is absolutely convincing as a piano player, though he had to take lessons for the film. There are some shots of him apparently playing like a master, though he’s admitted there was some “movie magic” involved as well. I’d really like to know how that was done because the effect is seamless.  

Green Book is a real crowd pleaser — aside from the banter between the oppositely-minded characters, it has clear heroes and villains. The writers do manage to sneak a few nuances in, especially when discussing Shirley feeling out of place in both the white and black communities.  

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  1. Frank Tester says:

    Well – as a vehicle designed to impact as wide an audience as possible, it’s a film that does make some obvious trade-offs and slants toward being a ‘feel good’ Hollywood production. But likely a tradeoff that was worth making. What I like is its complexity. It brings social class into the picture and messes up the tidy stereotypes we often operate with. And it does so without disappearing or downplaying the nastiness and fact of racism. I read a review that went overboard with the title and the Green Book (which isn’t overly referenced in the film). It read like a contrived artifact that the writer used to try to develop a critical perspective on the film. He’s right that the Green Book is a sordid history all of its own. But given the literacy level of Tony, the driver, I’m not surprised that he barely pays attention to it and despite the title, it plays a minor role in the film. It would be odd and contradictory if it did otherwise. That would undermine this film’s strength – the way class and race – in their many complexities, make for a thought-provoking mix.

  2. LaFawn Davis says:

    A decent movie. Probably more interesting if you are a Millennial or younger and don’t know the history of how life was for black people in the ’60s, ’70s, and earlier. It will be less earth-shattering if you are a Babyboomer and lived these times, or you saw “Ray”, “Hidden Figures”, etc. I was not familiar with this particular semi-biographical story, but I’m now intrigued to learn more.

  3. Sarah says:

    My husband and I were ardent fans of Don Shirley, we followed his career early on, heard him play and saw him perform several times. Many do not know he was a very respected stage set designer. His rendition and interpretation of Happy Talk from the show South Pacfic is out standing. A great talent who was missed by many.

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