Green Book, rated R
Green Book is inspired by a true story. It is a well-written, directed and acted film, one of the best films I’ve seen this year, but has some content concerns to be aware of. The film is directed and co-written by Peter Farrelly (There’s Something About Mary, Dumb and Dumber). Farrelly wrote the film with Nick Vallelonga, son of Tony Lip, one of the lead characters in the film, and Brian Hayes Currie. The film had a production budget of $23 million.
The movie takes place over a two-month period in 1962. Tony Lip, played by two-time Oscar nominee Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic, Eastern Promises, The Lord of the Rings films), is a racist Italian-American bouncer from the Bronx, employed at the Copacabana nightclub in New York City. In 1962, he accepts a job driving and protecting the renowned and arrogant African-American jazz pianist Don “Doc” Shirley, played by Oscar winner Mahershala Ali (Moonlight), on a music tour through the Midwest and deep South. The tour had been booked by Columbia Artists, Shirley’s management company and he would be playing at whites-only theaters and parlor rooms. His safety was a legitimate concern as only six years prior in 1956 Nat King Cole had been assaulted on stage while performing for an all-white audience in Birmingham, Alabama. Lip actually traveled with Shirley for a year and a half, which the film condenses into two months. Lips’ son, screenwriter Nick Vallelonga has said that shortening the trip for the film was the only major creative license that the filmmakers took.The film gets its title from The Negro Motorist Green Book, the green-covered guidebooks, commonly referred to as the Green Book, published by African-American postal worker Victor Hugo Green. The Green Book informed its readers what businesses and towns were safe to travel to and which areas to avoid while traveling in racially-segregated areas of the country. The books were available at gas stations and published from 1936 until 1966, selling as many as 15,000 copies per year. Lip and Shirley relied on the Green Book for guidance during their travels through the South, especially as it related to motels.
The film shows the racism that Don experienced, especially in the deep south, and their developing unlikely friendship. Don is portrayed as a lonely individual, who was once married, but could not manage both a marriage and a music career with significant time on the road. Tony is rough and profane. They are certainly an odd couple.
A particularly enjoyable aspect of the film is Shirley helping Lip write love letters to his wife Delores, played by Emmy nominee Linda Cardellini (Mad Men). Before and after the eight-week trip are enjoyable scenes with the Vallelonga family. Tony and Dolores’ actual family members play most of the relatives. An exception is comedian Sebastian Maniscalco, who plays Johnny Venere.
Content concerns include a significant amount of adult language, including several abuses of God’s and Jesus’ names and racial epithets, some violence and an implied homosexual sexual encounter.
Themes include racism, musical genius, segregation, friendship, loneliness, not fitting in, respect, dignity and courage.
The film is driven by the excellent, and I believe Oscar worthy performances by Mortensen and Ali, who have excellent chemistry on film. Music plays a large part in the film, thanks to Emmy winner Kris Bowers (The Snowy Day), who also serves as Ali’s piano double.
The events in the film took place about a decade before Lip began working as an actor. He made his film debut with a small part in the 1972 movie The Godfather. He is perhaps most recognizable from his role as Carmine Lupertazzi in the HBO TV series The Sopranos.
In the 1980’s, screenwriter Nick Vallelonga told Don Shirley and his father Tony Lip, who were lifelong friends until their deaths in 2013, that he wanted to make a movie about their experiences together. Shirley had told him to do it, and to include everything his father and Shirley told him, but to wait until after he died. Vallelonga believes that Shirley wanted him to wait because Shirley had never publicly come out as a homosexual.
Green Book is inspired by a true story about an unlikely friendship, and features two very strong acting performances by the lead characters. It is an excellent film, one of the best I’ve seen this year. It is funny at times and hard to watch at other times. Unfortunately, the film does have some content concerns to be aware of.