By Naseem Ally.
The Green Book also referred to as The Negro Motorist Green Book was a detailed guidebook for African-American roadtrippers during the Jim Crow law era from 1936 to 1966. This helps to understand and set the tone, for what audiences should expect in terms of the racial themes, that are heavily displayed in the film.
It’s a biographical comedy drama that’s been directed by Peter Farrelly. The director’s previous work includes, the cult comedy classics There’s Something About Mary (1998) and Dumb & Dumber (1994) starring Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels. With the success of the great road trip film Dumb & Dumber, I think Peter has scored himself another one with the Green Book.
With Peter, mostly being known for his work on comedic and rom com films, it’s refreshing to see that he has managed to keep this DNA whilst also being able to have serious and prevalent themes throughout the duration of Green Book. Green Book set in 1962, is inspired by and based on the actual true story of the African American jazz and classical pianist Don Shirley, portrayed by Mahershala Ali and Italian American bouncer Frank ‘‘Tony Lip’’ Vallelonga played by Viggo Mortensen.
Personally, I think Viggo was robbed of the Best Actor Win at the Oscars but that’s a subject for another day…slowly moving on. I’m glad the authenticity in this film wasn’t watered down like most films based on a true story (cough..cough..Bohemian..cough..Rhapsody!) With the film also being written by Peter, and co-written with the help of Nick Vallelonga, the son of Frank AKA ‘‘Tony Lip’’ it really shines through in this film, and audiences will get their money’s worth.
The comedic timing in this film is superb! Straight away from the beginning of Green Book, we are drawn into Tony Lip’s world played by the brilliant Viggo Mortensen. A brawny bouncer working at the Copacabana Club, who is a no-nonsense guy doing whatever necessary to keep things running smoothly. One of the club attendees kicks up a fuss about a missing hat, which forces Viggo’s character into action.
‘Guard this hat with your life’
The theme of guardianship runs throughout the duration of the film as we see the growth of the bond between Tony and Dr.Shirley, even with Tony’s racial biases as it’s essentially his job to guard his black client, over his tour of the Deep South. Along the way, there are many twists and turns due to Tony’s hot headed nature. He very often gets into sticky situations which we see unravel, to the detriment of Dr.Shirley.
Starting with punching a guy at the Copacabana Club, losing his job and then having to rely on hot dog eating competitions to earn his bucks. The constant eating that Viggo’s character made for some great laughs. One again hats off to him, his dedication to the role was well evident throughout the film. From the thick Italian American New York accent to the hefty weight he put on from eating ALL THAT FOOD!
Linda Cardellini did a great job too, as part of the supporting cast playing Tony’s wife Dolores. She is a key catalyst in the film that aims to change Tony’s perception of Dr. Shirley. A particular scene strikes to mind, where two plumbers come to work on their kitchen and are offered some drinks. It is a very powerful scene!
The pacing of the film is great. From the start of Tony being a bouncer to his transition of now working as a driver for Dr. Shirley. All of this occurs within the first, say 15 to 20 minutes. They have a brilliant encounter when they first meet – it’s hilarious! Tony’s comment about doing ‘public relations’ work is brilliant. It’s clear to see why Dr. Shirley hired Tony for his innate ability to handle trouble.
As well as being a tough guy, Tony is a family man who learns to get in touch with his ‘romantic’ side with the help of Dr. Shirley explaining to Tony how to write love letters to his wife. There’s some great camera work in this film. A scene pops to mind involving Mahershala and Viggo having a powerful exchange in the rain, with green hue lighting. Look out for another great scene as they make a pit stop, near a plain of farmers who look on at the sight of Tony and Dr.Shirley.
At times I felt, the constant racial references to eggplants was played out a bit too much. Perhaps, the writers really wanted the racial aspect to hit home due to the time it was set it in. There’s a lot of this sort of dialogue, that some audience members may be sensitive to, however in general I think this film is as honest as it could possibly be. I do admit though there could have been a lot less ‘ballbusting’ from Dr. Shirley as the constant nannying of Tony’s etiquette started to interfere with moving the story forward. At times I was wondering whether or not I was watching a rerun of Jo Frost’s Supernanny.
‘10 and 2 on the wheels Tony’ ‘Put it back Tony’
‘Don’t be vulgar Tony’
Ok, we get it.
But I have to admit, there was a funny moment with a ‘lucky rock’ that Tony…finds. Throughout all of their escapades and conflicts they face in the Deep South, the growth shown between Mahershala and Viggo’s characters really make you root for them over their tour. From the initial hostility, they eventually develop a genuine bond and care for one another to the point, where near the end of the film Dr.Shirley took on the mantle as a guard for Tony to ensure he got back to his family on time for Christmas.
A heartwarming film, great comedic timing, slightly too much nannying from Mahershala, but with that being said, it’s a very powerful and profound film.
Green Book is definitely worth a watch!
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