From the Farrelly brother that gave us the infamous anthology comedy Movie 43 comes Green Book, a drama-comedy that is getting serious Oscar buzz this awards season. The Peter Farrelly directed film gets its title from The Negro Motorist Green Book, a guidebook that African-Americans used to navigate throughout the country when finding restaurants and lodges that would accept them during the mid-20th century. The film stars Mahershala Ali, Viggo Mortensen and Linda Cardellini and is set during the fall and winter of 1962. The film is inspired by the true story of the African-Jamaican classical and jazz pianist Don “Doc” Shirley and his Italian-American driver and bodyguard Tony Vallelonga aka Tony Lip. Spoilers after the trailer.
The trailer doesn’t do this film justice because it doesn’t pitch the things that make Green Book stand out. After watching the trailer I got the impression that this movie was just another cliché movie for Oscar season. After watching the movie it is formulaic but the way it’s executed is what made it such an enjoyable film to watch. The trailer doesn’t highlight the comedy aspect of the film that’s prominent throughout the movie. This film is more of a buddy road trip comedy with elements of drama. The pairing of Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen is perfect, and it’s up there with some of the best pairings of the year. Mortensen gained up to 50 pounds for his role as Tony Vallelonga and Mahershala performances as Don “Doc” Shirley should put him in the running for Best Actor once the Academy announces the nominees in January 22, 2019.
Set in 1962 the film examines race relations during that time in American history. The film wants you to know that this is a time where race was a big factor in our society. At the beginning of the film there’s a scene where two black plumbers are doing repairs at the Vallelonga household. When Tony’s wife, Delores Vallelonga (Linda Cardellini), gives them lemonade, Tony sees this and once she leaves the kitchen he trashes the glasses they drink out of. After he throws those glasses away, the next scene shows him and his family praying at a dinner table. The juxtaposition of these scenes fits the narrative of the time period the move is set in because (the majority of) white people would look down at minorities, treat them as sub-human, but then pray to God and act like they were Holy like it was nothing. While cleaning up the table scraps, Delores’ notices that the two glasses were in the garbage can, so she takes them out and washes them while shaking her head and disapproving of her husband’s actions. This small little scene sets up Tony’s arc for the rest of the film.
Shortly after this, there’s a subtle example of foreshadowing when the agent calls Tony to tell him about the job offer as a driver for Doc Shirley. The agent speaks on a black phone and when Tony meets Doc, he is taken aback that Doc is black and he’s not an actual doctor. Doc is living the life of a king. His apartment is above Carnegie Hall, and in his living room he’s sitting on a throne like chair looking like he is royalty. Doc’s whole steez gave off Black Panther vibes. Doc speaks intelligently, and as soon as he appears on-screen he’s presented as being smarter and wealthier than the blue-collar Tony. During the time period this movie is set in, this is a rare occurrence and Tony is in disbelief that a black man lived like this. Tony takes the job of being Doc Shirley’s driver for 8 weeks after Doc talks to Tony’s wife to get her blessing that Tony can do it. This scene shows that Doc is a thoughtful and insightful man who plays a major part later in the film.
Doc Shirley is not only well-educated and sophisticated, but he is a world-class pianist. During his tour his contract demands that every venue must supply him a Steinway or he is not going to perform. This causes problems when the pair venture outside of the tri-state area. In Indiana, a worker at the venue has a trashed piano and tells Tony that “those coons can play whatever you put in from of them,” Tony rightfully takes offense and the worker ends up getting that Steinway. That’s just the beginning of the type of loyalty that Tony has for Doc. Doc returns the favor by using his way with words to help Tony write letters to his wife and kids. Expanding upon what makes this interesting is that Tony says he got the nickname “Tony Lip,” because he’s a great bullshitter, but when it comes to writing the woman he loves he cannot bullshit his way into an expressive letter.
When the pair arrive in Kentucky they stop at a Kentucky Fried Chicken and Doc tells Tony that he’s never eaten fried chicken in his life. The way Ali eats this piece of chicken in the back of the car, he does such an impressive job that you think he’s never eaten a chicken leg before. This scene leads to some insightful banter between the two. Tony thinks all black people eat chicken, grits, watermelon, and he mentions that when he was in the Army, the black cooks were incredible at cooking those things. Doc takes offense and lets him know that just because he’s black doesn’t mean he eats those things. This is a theme that is prevalent throughout the film. When they get into an argument later in the movie, Tony tells Doc that he’s blacker than him because he knows more about black culture, Doc takes offense and there’s a memorable scene in the rain. After watching Blindspotting earlier this year, it’s approach to the White Guy Thinks He’s Blacker Than The Black Guy trope was more memorable than this scene. Ali (Doc) and Mortensons’ (Tony) acting was phenomenal but the elements like the rain and the fact that Doc didn’t have to get out of the car made it too much like Oscar bait.
Overall, Green Book is a powerful film that is formulaic, but it’s execution is mostly flawless and the formula doesn’t hurt the film. I didn’t even know what a green book was so the film does have educational purposes. Doc Shirley has his flaws as a man, but the film presents him as a prideful and smart man who wanted to change what people thought of him by using his given abilities and gift of playing music. Tony swallowed his pride and opened his eyes to see that we are all the same no matter what our skin color is. This was definitely a “feel good” film, but Ali and Mortenson had marvelous performances and there were genuine laughs throughout the film. I did not expect it would be as funny as it was going into this film. This was one hell of a bounce back for the director Peter Farrelly, and I think the Academy will give it a few nominations. By the end of Green Book, Doc and Tony became the best of friends and remained as friends until their deaths in 2013. Like they say, in 1962, if a black man and a white man could go to jail together then get out together, travel all the way to Birmingham, Alabama together and make it back to New York in time to celebrate Christmas together, then that’s a true friendship of a lifetime.
[a si a si]
[All Mames Wey]
Green Book was released in theaters November 16, 2018.