Movie Review: Green Book

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I’m grateful that Joplin’s Regal Theater brings in the Best Picture nominated films, so that people like me can catch each movie ahead of the Academy Awards. I discovered this week of special showings last year and anticipated the event this year. Using my MoviePass card, and points racked up on my Regal Crown Club card, means free passes all week.

Having already seen four of the eight nominees, it’s been relatively easy to pick up the remaining four. A couple of days ago, I caught the matinee viewing of Green Book.

Movie Review Green Book

Green Book Cast

This comdy/drama, based on a true friendship, stars Mahershala Ali, Viggo Mortensen, Linda Cardellini, Dimiter D. Marinov and Mike Hatton. Directed by Peter Farrelly, the screenplay was written by Nick Vallelonga, Farrelly and Brian Currie. The biographical movie carries a PG-13 rating, for adult themes, smoking and moderate language, and has a run time of 2 hours and 10 minutes.

Green Book is nominated for five Oscars including Best Picture, Best Actor for Mortensen, Best Supporting Actor for Ali, Best Original Screenplay and Best Editing.

Movie Review Green Book

Tony Meets Dr. Shirley

In New York City, in 1962, Tony “Lip” Vallelonga (Mortensen) works successfully as a doorman and bouncer at the Copacabana Nightclub. The club, however, closes for two months for renovations, leaving Tony without work during that time.

With his wife Dolores (Cardellini) and two young sons to support, Tony hustles for any work he can find, including engaging in a hot dog eating contest at a local restaurant. As he struggles to find a genuine yet short term job, he’s asked to interview for a driving position with Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala).

Arriving at the address, Tony discovers the doctor lives in an apartment above Carnegie Hall. And the man is not a medical doctor. He’s a gifted musician…a classically trained pianist. The Don Shirley Trio has an eight week tour, traveling from the midwest to the deep south, and Dr. Shirley requires a driver who can also handle trouble, if encountered.

Although initially the two men don’t connect well, Dr. Shirley hires Tony, after checking in with Tony’s wife.  Eight weeks is a long time to be away from home. She gives her approval, as long as Tony is home by Christmas Eve.

Movie Review Green Book

On Tour

The record company Dr. Shirley is associated with provides two cars, one for Oleg (Marinov) and George (Hatton), the cellist and bassist in the trio. Tony drives the second car, with Dr. Shirley riding in the back. As they prepare to leave, a rep with the record company hands Tony a green book.

The Green Book, also called “The Negro Motorist Green Book”, was published from 1936 to 1966. The guide helped African American travelers find lodging, restaurants and other businesses that would serve them. Initially published to cover the southern regions of the US, the book eventually included most of North America, Bermuda and the Caribbean.

The two men find their equilibrium together, as they drive. Dr. Shirley…Don…is reserved, highly educated and prefers quiet and solitude. Tony is outgoing, talkative and never passes up an opportunity to eat. During the first few days, as they get acquainted, they often annoy and perplex each other.

However, listening to The Don Shirley Trio, on the initial tour stops, Tony recognizes genius. He comes to appreciate the incredible gifts that Don possesses. And Don Shirley sees that Tony is an open, what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of man, with a good heart.

Stopping for lunch one day, Don watches as Tony struggles to write a letter to his wife, Dolores. Don asks if he can help. He dictates romantic, poetic words for Tony to write down. Back home, Tony’s letters become a bit of sensation, as Dolores reads each one aloud to gathered family members.

Movie Review Green Book

The Deep South

The Trio is well received by audiences, everywhere they go. However, as the group travels deeper into the south, attitudes shift. The hotels for Don become seedier and seedier. More and more businesses refuse to serve him. And although the venues where Don performs are packed and the crowds applaud heartily, the owners of those grand houses and nightclubs treat him differently when he’s not performing. He’s not allowed to eat in the main dining room, or he’s asked to use an outdoors toilet or he’s given a janitor’s closet for a dressing room.

Horrified, Tony observes these unjust actions and narrow mindsets.  He itches to react in the way he knows best…with his fists. Dr. Shirley tells him,

“You never win with violence. You only win when you maintain your dignity.”

As the tour draws to a close, the group arrives at the last venue. When Don is treated with grave disrespect, Tony declares “Enough!”. But if the trio walks out and doesn’t do the show, Tony doesn’t get the last half of his much needed pay. If they stay, however, it’s another show in which Don must smile politely, remain silent, and pretend it’s all okay.

Whatever they decide….they must decide together.

Movie Review Green Book

My Thoughts on Green Book

This was another “based on a true story” film that absolutely pierced my heart. Both Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali gave outstanding performances, worthy of their Oscar nominations.

Viggo gained 20 pounds for the role. I admire actors who go to such lengths to get into character. And Mahershala’s portrayal of a gifted yet carefully restrained musician was spot on…and heart touching.

There are fun touches in this film. Nick Vallelonga, who co-wrote the screenplay, is Tony’s actual son. Nick appears in the film, as do several other actual family members, which lends authenticity to the characters.

What I love most about Green Book is the relationship between Tony and Don. They come from such different backgrounds. Their perspectives about the world differ, as do their experiences of the world. Yet they respect and genuinely like each other, sharing a friendship rather than an employer/employee relationship.

And how important their friendship becomes. In a world that struggles with segregation and inequality, they offer the best of themselves, to each other and to anyone open enough to receive. I grieved and teared up over Don’s mistreatment. I cheered for the deep friendship and mutual respect between Tony and Don.

Epilogue

During the credits, photos popped up of the real Dr. Don Shirley and Tony Lip Vallelonga. My research shows that the two completed a year long tour together, before Dr. Shirley headed to Europe. He continued to offer his musical gifts to all.

Tony returned to the Copacabana. Later he became an actor, appearing in several Martin Scorsese films and cast as a regular on The Sopranos television series.

The two men remained close friends for the rest of their lives. They both died in 2013, three months apart.

Movie Review Green Book

The Best Picture Nominated Films

If you’ve missed any other my other reviews, here are the films I’ve seen so far. I’ll have a review up tomorrow, for The Favourite. And I’ll see Vice tomorrow evening. Watch for that review on Sunday, ahead of the 91st Academy Awards.

You can pre-order Green Book on Blu-Ray and DVD   ahead of its March 19 release date, or rent on  Amazon Prime Video.

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