Green Book ended up winning Best Picture at The Oscars. Inspired by a true story about a relevant topic, this film has been met with controversy from members of the Don Shirley family [who is portrayed in the film]. On the other hand, the Vallelonga family endorsed the film, for many of the family members are seen onscreen in Green Book. Regardless, the film is a fun motion picture and is a worthy addition to the Blues School canon of films.
The film opens in an epic style at the Copacabana Nightclub, circa 1962. While Bobby Rydell sings “That Old Black Magic,” bouncer Tony Vallelonga, alias Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) is forced to eject an unruly patron, who happens to be a made member of the mafia. To avoid escalating the situation, the Copacabana Club closes for “renovations.” Tony is forced to seek alternative income until the club reopens.
With plans to tour in the midwest and the deep south, Jazz pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) hires Tony Lip as a driver, who has a reputation for fast talking people out of trouble. These skills will be needed as the “Don Shirley Trio” drive through the segregated south, where white members of the band are forced to sleep in separate hotels. The star of the show, Don Shirley, is forced to stay in grubby hotels only listed in the “Green Book.”
Racism, bigotry and prejudice are the major themes of this film. Fortunately, humor is used to diffuse potentially explosive situations, which is much in the style of Tony Lip. The first half of the story deals with the behavior differences between these two strong individuals, between a dreamer and a pragmatist. Despite these cultural differences, trust is earned and the two men forge a bond that leads to a satisfying conclusion.
One would think that with credits like Dumb and Dumber, There’s Something About Mary and The Three Stooges, a director like Peter Farrelly would not have the sensitivity to create a film like Green Book. However, good comedy is based on truth and that is what makes Green Book a success. When you review Peter Farrelly’s movies (sometimes co-directed & co-written by his brother Bobby), you can see sensitivity even within some comic gross-out scenes. (There are no comic gross-out scenes in Green Book).
One perfect scene stands out for its story progress, character development and sensitive humor. Having never departed the state of New York, Tony is awestruck by an actual Kentucky Fried Chicken in Kentucky. Don is not impressed, but Tony coaxes his boss to eat fried chicken. After getting over the crudity of eating without a knife and fork, Don gingerly bites into this American delicacy with new rapture. After the climax of this scene, one knows that Tony Vallelonga and Don Shirley will be friends for life.
With an outstanding movie soundtrack, the details of Green Book feel authentic. This will be a film that will be in regular rotation on the television screen for many years. It is a fun road trip for people who are looking to be entertained.