“Green Book” Movie Review

Green Book

     After viewing director Peter Farrelly’s “Green Book”, the last thing you would expect is to realize he and his brother Bobby have amongst their notable film credits the over the top raunchy comedies “Dumb and Dumber”, “Kingpin”, and “There’s Something About Mary”.  But then, after you take it all in, you begin to see the comedic calling cards of those past films littered throughout a story that while heartwarming and certainly topical in today’s society, is also flat out hilarious.  “Green Book” is easily the funniest film of 2018, but may also be the very best film of the year as well, featuring standout performances from both Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali.

     Going into the theater, you already know what the premise likely has in store if you’ve viewed the trailer.  If you’re telling me the story revolves around a black musician touring the deep South in the early 1960s, that alone indicates the audience will be again reminded of just how sick and disgusting our country’s history is.  Particularly on the topic of racism, which still haunts us today in some ways that may actually be worse than the period this film takes place.  The title itself references a publication of the time which listed hotels and other establishments friendly to African-Americans while traveling.   In the first few scenes where we meet Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) and his family, it isn’t difficult to understand why such a book would be necessary.

     Having grown up in an all Italian Bronx neighborhood,  Tony inherited a racist mentality from the time he was a youngster.  The male figures in his life utilized racist slurs and other demeaning comments as a normal form of communication.  Is it any surprise that thought process remained in Tony and his counterparts psyche once they reached adulthood?  I wouldn’t necessarily call it hatred, but there is definitely an obvious sense of superiority amongst these characters which comes out so naturally, it makes one wonder how we go about undoing those thoughts when you have been raised this way your entire life.  Of course, we often make these kinds of judgements about people we don’t really know all of the time, only to find out later what we heard was completely false. 

     Fans of “The Sopranos” will be delighted to see the many scenes featuring Tony and his extended family which are centered completely around tasty looking homemade Italian food. The characters gobble up pizza, pasta, and meatballs in practically every early scene, as they talk about each other and the neighborhood goings on, while the wives are in the background chatting up on the latest gossip (Mortensen is said to have gained 45 pounds for the role.).  Farrelly provides an immediate sense of authenticity with the sets and locations, taking the audience back to an era when interesting conversation and food ruled everyone’s free time.  And in the center of it all is Tony, as he hustles his way through bouncing at the local night club and participating in impromptu food challenges in order to support his family.  Boy could this guy eat!

     While looking for work, Tony is recommended for a job as a driver for Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), a concert pianist whose record label has booked him for a tour throughout the Midwest and South.  Remembering this true story takes place in the early 1960s, it is clear the tour brings with it a number of real concerns given the racial situation in the South at the time.  I won’t go into those things here since I get queasy just thinking about it, but the film certainly makes this point several times during the duo’s two month journey from venue to venue and state to state.  But along the way, something happens between these two men while traveling in a car together through long stretches of countryside.

     Written by Tony Lip’s real life son, Nick Vallelonga, as well as Brian Hayes Currie and Peter Farrelly, the script allows for a heavy dose of back and forth banter between the tough guy act of Tony and the eloquent educated verbiage of Dr. Shirley.  In the process, they successfully break through those invisible barriers created from their individual upbringings by simply conversing about and debunking a number of stereotypes thought to be true on both sides.  And this is where much of that hilarity I spoke of occurs, as you come to realize how dumb a lot of the thoughts each of these men had going in were in the first place.  Of course, there are a number of encounters with evil along the way, presenting itself in the form of racist bar patrons, rogue and hateful cops, and the subtle, yet unacceptable nature of a hotel manager who spews racial hate with a smile.  But there was one such instance where the reason for the encounter came with assumption from both Tony and Dr. Shirley, but then they both realized the person was only there to help and their immediate suspicions were wrong.  It was a nice touch near the end that teaches everyone a valuable lesson in not judging a book by its cover.

     “Green Book” is one of those near perfect films where you just can’t help but shower accolades on everyone involved.  The screenplay provides some of the most entertaining dialogue of the year, but also creates a number of clever set ups for the characters that have tremendously satisfying payoffs by the end.  It’s funny, and there are some tough situations to get through because of the subject matter, but ultimately, you will feel a sense of satisfaction after leaving the theater.  Some may even change their mindset about race entirely, or at the very least will approach the subject differently.  It is that powerful of a film, if you pay attention and approach it with an open mind.  Fact is, each of us should be judged solely on our character, not our skin color.  And the only way that can happen is if you have the opportunity to know someone on a personal level.  Otherwise, your entire opinion becomes derived from nothing more than conjecture, rumor, and gossip.  A lesson learned by both Tony and Dr. Shirley which resulted in a life long friendship.  GRADE: A