Recent Posts

Archive

Tags

‘Green Book’ is equal parts history lesson and buddy flick

When trying to sell people on why “Green Book” should be on their must-watch list, I’ve quickly learned to lead with “it’s a really funny road trip/buddy movie” before following up with “that touches on some pretty dark themes that actually happened not all that long ago.”

Brief history lesson: the film is named for the surprisingly real “Negro Motorist Green Book” – an annual publication (from the mid-1930s to mid-1960s) that provided African American travelers a list of service stations, restaurants, hotels, etc. that wouldn’t refuse them service based on the color of their skin.

Based on real events, “Green Book” tells the story of famed New York City musician Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) who, heading into the holiday season is readying to embark on a tour of the southern United States. With segregation and the threat of violence real concerns, he sets out to find someone who can not only drive him from gig to gig, but can provide him the requisite muscle that will likely be needed along the way.

Viggo Mortensen as Tony Vallelonga and Mahershala Ali as Dr. Donald Shirley in "Green Book," directed by Peter Farrelly. (Photo Credit: Universal Pictures, Participant, and DreamWorks © 2018 UNIVERSAL STUDIOS AND STORYTELLER DISTRIBUTION CO., LLC. All Rights Reserved.)

He finds his man in the form of Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) – a street-wise tough guy who’s looking for work to support his family while the club he bounces at is temporarily shut down.

The affluent and refined Shirley, and blue collar and crass Vallelonga couldn’t be any more different if they tried – issues that are only exasperated by each initially casting judgment on the other for their own perceived stereotypes. But as the tour drags on, the duo forms an unexpected bond and each begins to see some of the issues the other is facing.

Aside from the fact that the “Green Book” was a real thing, the biggest surprise from this film for me comes by way of the man in the director’s chair – Peter Farrelly.

I never expected the man responsible for “Dumb and Dumber” and “The Three Stooges” to be the right person to tell such a touching and delicate story in such an adept manner. There just enough humor mixed in humor to keep you from fixating on the depressing realness of the situation, and showing you just enough of the depressing realness to remind you that this isn’t your run-of-the-mill comedy. A fine balance needed to be struck, and Farrelly did that.

Less surprising are the stellar performances of Ali and Mortensen. In a fictional narrative, affluent jazz musician and NYC tough guy could very easily be given a one-dimensional treatment. But because it is rooted in reality, there’s obviously much more to these characters than meets the eye – something that needs to come across to tell the story properly.

Viggo Mortensen as Tony Vallelonga and Mahershala Ali as Dr. Donald Shirley in "Green Book," directed by Peter Farrelly. (Photo Credit: Patti Perret/Universal Pictures, Participant, and DreamWorks © 2018 UNIVERSAL STUDIOS AND STORYTELLER DISTRIBUTION CO., LLC. All Rights Reserved.)

Vallelonga, while an uneducated tough guy, is also a loving, and devoted family man of character and principal. And, despite his own misconceptions about Shirley and African Americans, he’s also ardent in support of his employer and won’t allow anyone to put him in harm’s way.

Dolores Vallelonga (Linda Cardellini, left) watches as her husband, Tony (Viggo Mortensen) says goodbye to their sons Frankie Vallelonga (Gavin Foley, left) and Nick Vallelonga (Hudson Galloway, right) in "Green Book," directed by Peter Farrelly. (Photo Credit: Patti Perret/Universal Pictures, Participant, and DreamWorks © 2018 UNIVERSAL STUDIOS AND STORYTELLER DISTRIBUTION CO., LLC. All Rights Reserved.)

Shirley himself is searching for his place in the world. He plays music that “his people” don’t generally listen to or appreciate, so he plays for affluent white people who appreciate his talent, but still marginalize him because of his skin color. He’s without friends or family, and his wife has left him. He is an isolated, lonely man, despite his profound talent and ego.

Dr. Donald Shirley (Mahershala Ali) performs with cellist Oleg (Dimiter D. Marinov) and bassist George (Mike Hatton) in "Green Book," directed by Peter Farrelly. (Photo Credit: Patti Perret/Universal Pictures, Participant, and DreamWorks © 2018 UNIVERSAL STUDIOS AND STORYTELLER DISTRIBUTION CO., LLC. All Rights Reserved.)

These are two very dynamic characters that needed dynamic actors not only to bring them to life, but to not be overshadowed by the other. Both Ali and Mortensen dug their heels in and delivered. Oscar nominations for both are all but guaranteed.

Written by Farrelly, Brian Hayes Currie, and Vallelonga’s son, Nick, the film takes the viewer on a rollercoaster of emotions. You laugh, you think, your jaw drops, you cry, you laugh some more – I imagine it will hit everyone differently. But the important thing is you feel something … that’s not something a ton of films can claim.

★★★★ ½ of ★★★★★

© 2020 by Man Versus Movie

  • Facebook Social Icon
  • Twitter Social Icon
  • Instagram Social Icon