No real segue, but there is a bit of a history lesson, so let’s just go with that. The movie is, I suppose, based on a true story about a Jamaican jazz pianist named Don Shirley and his bouncer slash driver Tony Lip back in 1962. Lip would eventually go on to be an actor and have roles in gangster movies like GOODFELLAS (1990), DONNIE BRASCO (1997), and possibly most famously in the hit TV show THE SOPRANOS (1999 – 2007). Both men passed away in 2013 and now are about to be immortalized.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Viggo Mortensen (CAPTAIN FANTASTIC ), Mahershala Ali (HIDDEN FIGURES , MOCKINGJAY 2 , PREDATORS , and upcoming films SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE  and ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL ), Linda Cardellini (HUNTER KILLER , THE FOUNDER , AVENGERS: ULTRON , and the upcoming THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA ), and P.J. Byrne (RAMPAGE , HOME AGAIN , and THE GIFT ).
Now for the crew. Director and co-writer is Peter Farrelly, known for OSMOSIS JONES (2001) and DUMB AND DUMBER (1994). Farrelly’s partners-in-pen are Nick Vallelongo (stuff I’ve either never heard of or seen), son of Tony Lip, and Brian Hayes Currie (stuff I’ve either never heard of or seen). One of the producers is Octavia Spencer, known for stuff I’ve either never heard of or seen. Composing the score is Kris Bowers, known for MONSTERS AND MEN (2018). The cinematographer is Sean Porter, known for ROUGH NIGHT (2017) and GREEN ROOM (2016). Finally, the editor is Patrick J. Don Vito, known for stuff I’ve either never heard of or seen.
I’ve already seen the film, so let’s dive in.
This is my honest opinion of: GREEN BOOK
Set in 1962. Tony “Lip” Vallelonga was a bouncer for an exciting club, and is also a touch racist. After a fight breaks out and the club, it shuts down for awhile and Tony is forced to pick up a driving job. His new job is to drive the wealthy and famous Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), a talented Jamaican pianist. Turns out that Shirley is touring the deep south and playing for the wealthy that reside down there and requires a driver as well as a bouncer in case he encounters trouble. Despite some reluctance on Tony’s end, he accepts the job and the responsibilities entailed, and so begins a journey of understanding and acceptance.
About freakin’ time. Just one more truly great film of the year.
You know what I truly appreciated about this movie? Something that no other racially charged movie has done this year? This movie, not once in its entire run time, ever says the word “racist.” Maybe segregation, I’d have to see it again to clarify that, but that’s actually a pretty big detail… er, at least, for my tastes, especially this year. While movies rooted in racial profiling is nothing new in movies, but there was something about this year that seemed to make it a pretty focused theme. Starting with BLINDSPOTTING in July, at least one racial movie has been released a month. In one case, only a week apart. Not that the issue isn’t important to address, but many of these films were almost copy and paste stories. This movie seemed to be the only one to try something different, and that wasn’t to actually make it blatantly obvious what the story was about. We know what this movie is, and the movie is smart enough to not put a label on it. We see it in everyone’s eyes.
Let me paint a picture as best I can. So in the beginning, Tony is revealed to be a pretty racist guy from a pretty racist family. Some black guys are doing some repairs or something around the house and Tony goes to his living room to find that the men in his family, brothers and such I assume, are there watching the game on TV, but are really there to make sure nothing happens to his wife Dolores (Linda Cardellini). To make matters worse, Dolores, who is a sweetheart of a woman, offers a glass of lemonade to the gentlemen and Tony sees them drink from the glasses. They leave not long after, and then get this… Tony grabs a napkin, or something, looks at the glasses like they’re dead rats, and straight throws them away in the garbage. Dolores eventually plucks them out of the trash knowing exactly what’s up. A few scenes later, Tony’s going to interview with Don, not knowing that he’s black, and insists that he won’t have a problem with driving him around New England, but neither Don, nor the audience for that matter, really believe him. Of course, a movie like this, you know eventually Tony will come around and learn a lesson. But again, it’s not obviously said. It does exactly what a good movie about change of perspective should do. It shows him reflecting, thinking, emoting, and practicing, and it’s done in a very genuine way that I really liked. <<<SPOILERS – highlight to reveal>>> [ And how this movie wraps up Tony’s arc is among one of the more poignant endings to a movie like this that I’ve ever seen. So Tony and Don have gone their separate ways to celebrate the holidays, Tony with his family, Don by himself, despite Tony’s offer to spend it with his family. Tony comes home and one of his brothers says something racist, calling Don an “eggplant,” I think, and Tony says, “Hey, don’t call him that.” His family is confused, naturally, but they more or less respect the request. Then Don arrives at his home and is welcomed not just with open arms, but a chair at the table with an enthusiastic welcoming from the rest of the family. What a shift in character for Tony. In the beginning, he threw away a pair of glasses because some black guys took a drink from it. Not even just immediately putting them in the dishwasher, but throwing them away. That’s a special kind of nasty. But you see his journey with Don, both in the spiritual and literal sense and you see what lead to his attitude adjustment and feels so much more satisfying. ] <<<END SPOILERS>>>
What also makes this movie different is that it’s mostly set from the “racists” point of view. That’s rare, and very difficult to do. Not only do you have to let the audience know that he is what he is, but you have to somehow balance that out with some measure of likability. That he’s not some monster, and in this easily-triggered American society that I live in, that’s about the hardest accomplishment to… well, accomplish. But this movie does a great job of showing that Tony has humanity. He’s a legit loving husband and father, and is actually pretty hilarious. He wins an impromptu hot dog-eating contest and won fifty dollars from his haggler. Couldn’t stop laughing. Or that scene where Tony is talking too much at the beginning of their road trip and Don says something like, “How about some quiet time,” then Tony does that Loony Tunes thing where he’s all like, “It’s so funny that you said that, ‘quiet time.’ My wife does that to me, so funny you said that.” I hope that reference makes sense. Or that time he got so excited from seeing a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in Kentucky? That was great. And Tony never forgets his job. He knows he’s not just going to drive Don around. Part of his job is to make sure that Don always practices and plays on a Steinway piano. When they’re in Hanover, Indiana, Tony has to deal with a prick stage-hand who doesn’t give them the right piano and doesn’t care, saying something like, “Put coons in front of it, they’ll play on any instrument.” Tony doesn’t stand for that shit and forces that asshat to get the right piano, and get the right piano he does. And when they’re in Macon, Georgia and Tony and Don enter a suit shop. The employee thinks that Tony is browsing for himself, but when he hands the desired suit to Don, the employee stops him and kicks him out. Even Tony can’t believe how Don is mistreated and they leave.
It’s come to my attention that Don Shirley’s direct family has actually spoken out against the film. To my understanding, it has to do with inaccuracies in Don’s character. Dominating what little I read was that this story centers around a white man, when it should have been about Don. That not enough attention was focused on what he actually did and accomplished. I would certainly have to read more into what exactly these family members are referring to, I have to ask… is this actually not just as important a story to tell? Sure, I’d wager that Don’s exploits and the impact he had at the height of his fame would be a more interesting story to tell. But isn’t this just as important? Did Don Shirley not go out into the world with his music to try and shift perspectives? Did he not face hardship and segregation as he did? At this point, these are legit questions and I would welcome a history lesson. But in any case, wouldn’t a story about a bigoted man who was so profoundly affected by his way of thinking and seeing things that he changed? Do we not have more than a few people in this country who could benefit from from a shift in perspective? I won’t speak further on the matter, as it’s not like I know specifics about Don Shirley. Still, I don’t think the movie was supposed to be about Don Shirley’s life. I think it was just about his friendship to Tony Lip. It’s not like this movie has to be the only one of its kind to be about Shirley. But a movie about his accomplishments and his effect on the present day doesn’t have to be the only story told. It would probably be interesting to see that movie in the future, but I kind of like how intimate and smaller this movie feels.
About the closest thing to a problem that I have with the flick is that Tony’s shift in racial sensitivity was… sudden. I don’t recall a scene where he had some kind of epiphany and realized why it was so wrong to say certain things, or why it was so wrong of him to make quick stereotypical assumptions. For the first half of the movie, he’s not the most likable dude. He has his redeeming qualities here and there, but nothing to indicate that a lesson was truly learned. Much as I love where Tony ends up by the end of the film, the road to there felt a like a sharp left turn, rather than a gradual realization. I won’t dock points against this movie for it, as it did so much right, but this quick character shift needs to stop.
Overall, I think this is a wonderful film and is a must-see of the year. Exactly how factual the movie is to the real life men that are portrayed here, I’m sure I have no idea. Regardless, I hope this movie’s message feels as fresh to others as it does to me. So yeah, a very high recommendation from me.
My honest rating for GREEN BOOK: 5/5
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