Dr. Don Shirley
If I am not black enough, and I am not white enough, then tell me Tony, what am I?’
That, in a nutshell, sums Dr. Shirley’s identity crisis in “Green Book”, as told by director Peter Farrelly.
Imagine if that were your world?
The black man in the farmlands, is in awe that Shirley is not tilling the ground with him. The white policeman wonders why Shirley is being driven by a white man. Above all, the rich white folk love Shirley’s music but he’s not good enough to use their restrooms.
The film is named after The Negro Motorist Green Book a mid-20th century guidebook for African-American travellers written by Victor Hugo Green, to help them find motels and restaurants that would accept them.
Also aptly described as a movie ‘inspired by a true story friendship’, “Green Book” brings together two divergent characters. And they form the most heartwarming bond as theyjourney into the Deep South of 1960’s America
Viggo Mortensen better known for his role as Aragorn in “Lord of the Rings” stars as Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga. He’s nicknamed “Lip” for being ‘the best bullshit artist in the Bronx’. Early on in the film, we learn that Tony is racist. His wife offered two black maintenance men a drink in their home and Tony tossed the glasses the used into a bin. The New York City club bouncer portrays the classic “Italian family man”. One who would do anything for his family – including dropping his prejudice to work with a black man. So long as the money is good. As a result, he agrees to drive Shirley for his tour in the Deep South.
Juxtapose that with Shirley. A pianist, played by Mahershala Ali (Remi Dalton in House of Cards). Shirley is a black man who has never had fried chicken. And he’d rather not because he ‘prefers not to get grease on his blanket’. A gentleman with an extensive vocabulary. And a virtuoso whose artistry extends beyond the playing of the piano to his clever use of words. On their road trip, Shirley helps Tony write a letter to his wife Doroles (Linda Cardellini). And it begins; ‘D-E-A-R, Dolores.When I think of you, I’m reminded of the beautiful plains of Iowa’.
They drive in a turquoise 1962 Cadillac Sedan DeVilles rented by Shirley’s record company for the road trip. His band members, Oleg (Dimitar Marinov) and George (Mike Hatton) also ride in a similar car. The cars are a perfect setting for the film. Among other elements, the cars allow cinematographer, Sean Porter, to achieve a distinct visual look for “Green Book”.
Farrelly along with his brother Bobby, is known for directing and producing quirky films such as, “Dumb and Dumber” and “There’s Something About Mary”. However, he picks a delicate subject for his dramedy, “Green Book”.
Certainly, Farrelly’s ability to bring the loud-mouthed and uncouth Tony Lip and the stoic, prim and proper Shirley together to create such a strong onscreen chemistry is praiseworthy. Along the way, Tony’s prejudice changes when he experiences racism in proportions he never imagined. On the other hand, Shirley shows his insecurities and vulnerabilities which expensive gifts including an elephant’s tusk cannot cure. They push each other to be better. Tony becomes more refined. While Shirley becomes less uptight and more resolute in his fight for recognition. He even performs at a black bar – The Orange Bird.
Nick Vallelonga – Tony Lip’s son – is one of three screenwriters. Others being Brian Hayes Currie and Farrelly. The trio’s screenplay is a tribute to Tony Vallelonga. But the result, is a hard-hitting yet enjoyable dialogue between Mortensen and Ali. More so, Ali’s performance is gripping. And with such a commanding onscreen presence, he makes “Green Book” an even more enjoyable ride.
“Green Book” has a strong beginning and end. As a result, what we are treated to is a meaningful and thought-provoking movie. Based on a touchy subject, this film will make you do some soul-searching. But Mortensen’s comedic brilliance ensures that you do not walk away angry or depressed.
Directed by: Peter Farrelly
Produced by: Jim Burke
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini, Dimiter D. Marinov, Mike Hatton, Don Stark, Sebastian Maniscalco, P. J. Byrne, Brian Stepanek, Iqbal Theba
Image: Geek Tyrant