By James Davidson
The movie “Green Book” is based on a true story about a working class Italian-American night club bouncer from the Bronx, named Tony “Lip” Vallelonga, who becomes the driver for an African-American classical pianist, Dr. Don Shirley, who was from upper class New York. The film recently won an Oscar for Best Picture. It follows two people from opposite worlds as they encounter racism and classism throughout the deep South of the United States in the 1960’s. The movie follows their relationship as it evolves and they learn about each other and themselves.
When I heard what this movie was about and that it had won Best Picture, I thought this was going to be a very heavy expose about race relations in the 1960s in the US. While those types of films interest me, they are not necessarily a “fun” time at the theater. They can tend to be dark and heavy; it’s hard to make such a difficult subject fun and entertaining.
Somehow “Green Book” accomplishes just that. It does get heavy in certain places, as I said, it’s hard to take all of the gloominess and horribleness of this subject out entirely. But the chemistry between Tony, (played by Viggo Mortensen) and Dr. Shirley (played by Mahershala Ali) is fantastic. The two of them clash in a wonderfully funny way. I appreciated the filmmakers ability to add a little bit of humor, without sacrificing any of the message.
The evolution of the two unlikely friends’ relationship is a joy to watch. Watching Tony go from just a driver and employee of Dr. Shirley who only cares about getting paid, to truly caring about his employer and becoming his friend is amazing. Dr. Shirley goes through a similar transformation. He is from upper class New York and doesn’t care for Tony’s colorful language and rough behaviour. Both eventually warm up to each other and gradually help each other with small things and they each other learn about themselves.
I enjoyed this movie much more than I thought. The humor brought about by the odd relationship between these two unlikely friends puts this film into another bracket. It takes the edge off of some of the intense situations that are presented. However, it does this in a way that doesn’t lessen the blow of these situations. I was still able to feel the severity of some of the horrible ways that African-Americans were treated in this country, specifically in the Deep South. But the filmmakers brought that message across in an entertaining, fun way.
The fact that this was a true story was even more interesting. I would love to meet these two interesting people. These men apparently stayed friends until both of their deaths; they died within months of each other in 2013. I strongly recommend that everyone see this movie. I can see why it won the Oscar for Best Picture; it is fantastic.
The movie might not be appropriate for younger viewers, it is rated PG-13 for thematic content; specifically language including racial epitaphs, smoking, some violence, and suggestive material. But it is a great movie for a night out with friends or families with older children.
“Green Book” is a wonderfully entertaining, funny movie that deals with a difficult subject matter and extremely effectively. I will definitely be buying this film to add to my collection and watch multiple times. It earns 5 out of 5 stars.