Green Book (2018) Review
DRIVING DR. SHIRLEY
Tales of diversity and of the formation (and overall bonding) of a friendship from the most unlikeliest people has always been touching centerpiece to tell. Whether from racial segregations, society classes, or something else entirely, stories such as these has always been impactful ones to tell, resonating its thematic message that ring true and triumph over adversity, which is the palpable crux of the human condition of emotion an empathy. Given the general positive consensus of narrative of friendship endurance in the face of social / racial challenges, Hollywood has taken an interest in developing feature films around this concept (whether fictional and fantastical or grounded and based on a true story), depicting them under a cinematic light for the masses to learn and appreciate. Prime examples of this compelling narrative can be drawn from 1981’s animated feature The Fox and the Hound, 1982’s sci-fi E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, to 1989’s comedy-drama motion picture Driving Mrs. Daisy, to 2000’s biographical sports drama Remember the Titans, to 2008’s historical drama The Boy in the Stripped Pajamas, to 2009’s sports family drama Blind Side, and many others, inspiring hope, heart, and of human faith that friendships can form in the most unlikeliest of places and from the most unlikeliest of individuals. Now, Universal Pictures (and Participant Media and DreamWorks Pictures) and director Peter Farrelly present the latest film of an unlikely friendship with the movie Green Book. Does the feature ring true with the bonding friendship of two different people or does it fail to produce a measure of both heart and drama throughout its proceedings?
In 1962, Italian-American Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) finds himself in need of work after the Copacabana (where he works as a bouncer) closes for two months due to renovations. As he looks for a job to support his wife Dolores (Linda Cardellini) and his two kids, Tony finds himself interviewing for a driving position with Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali). Shirley, who is an African-American pianist of classical music, is set to an eight-week concert tour through the mid-West and deep South and is in needs an associate to not only transport him to each of the concert venues, but to also as a security detail if any unnecessary issues arises. Even though the job will keep Tony away from his family for the duration of the tour, the hefty payday encourages him to take the position. Promising Dolores he’ll be home for Christmas, Tony hits the road with Dr. Shirley and the other two members of Shirley’s musical trio, using the Negro Motorist Green Book as a guide to find suitable colored friendly establishments to lodge during the tour. Together, Vallelonga and Shirley will have to overcome their personal differences as well as varying social injustices that they’ll come across on their journey. That being said, their time together turns out to be more rewarding than both men expected, changing their lives for the better in more ways than one.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Anyone who’s even seen any type of theatrically piece of drama, know what I’m talking about in the above paragraph. Despite what we many might think, or the diverse backgrounds we come from, or even what our life environments may be, everyone enjoys (in some shape, size, or form) hearing about tales of overcoming “barriers” amongst people and seeing a relationship (be it friendship, platonic, or romantic) blossom from two of the unlikeliest people. Why you ask? The answer is a hard one to pinpoint as it will vary from person to person. To me personally, I think it’s because it shows the “best” of humanity (or of a character-based personas) as well showcasing different viewpoints from the individuals; challenging the status quo of society and / or their surroundings. This is most prevalent in several Hollywood movies, with some personal favorites of mine being Remember the Titans (left side, strong side), Fox & the Hound (even though that’s such a depressing kid’s movie), and Blind Slide (probably my favorite Sandra Bullock role). In other cases, this type of “east meets west” has been played for laughs in a more comical theater genre…such is the case with 1998’s Rush Hour or even 2019’s Hobbs & Shaw (to a certain degree). Still, regardless of the circumstances, the bonding of friendship from two (or more) different type of people (from different walks of life / society) is something worth noting and caring about.
This brings me back to talking about the movie Green Book, a 2018 film that the latest feature film from Hollywood that talks of this subject. To be honest, I really didn’t hear much about this movie via online. I’m not saying that it was gonna be bad or anything or even unimportant, but I just didn’t see much internet buzz or piece of interest through my personal favorite movie sites for this particular movie. That being said, I got more interested in seeing this film when I saw the movie’s trailer, which definitely sparked my interest in seeing Green Book. Of course, the film’s premise seemed interesting, but I was more interested in the film’s cast (most notably the two leads). I didn’t immediately go see Green Book when it first came out (was trying to play catch up with other movies that I hadn’t seeing yet), but I remember hearing a lot (and I do mean a lot) of positive praise about the film, which did further my interest to see the movie. So, I did see it a couple weeks after it was out (I saw a late movie very late night and was the only person in the theater), but I kept on pushing back in doing my movie review due to more prominent releases (i.e. Aquaman, Mary Poppins Returns, Bumblebee, etc.). So…(finally)…. I’m doing my review for Green Book. What did I think of it? Well, I liked it. Despite a few problems, Green Book is a great and delightful movie that’s works thanks to the film’s direction, a solid screenplay, and terrific acting from its cast. The movie doesn’t “redefine” the whole narrative aspect of a friendship of two different people, but its definitely hits all the right chords, notes, and beats to make for a heartwarming and wholesome “based on a true story” feature film.
Green Book is directed by Peter Farrelly, whose previous directorial works includes such films as There’s Something About Mary, Stuck on You, and Dumb and Dumber. Given his background in directing more comedic feature films, Farrelly seems like an unlikeliest candidate to direct a motion picture like Green Book, a film that’s more regarded as a drama feature. However, to his credit, Farrelly actually the y does a really good job in helming a film project like this, adhering to the dramatic poise that narrative calls upon as well as the theatrical presentation required for cinematic endeavor. The film’s story has a certain “Driving Mrs. Daisy” vibe and its easily to draw the comparsion between the classic 1989 film and Green Book as well as the narrative path that both feature follow. Personally, it didn’t bother me as much because I sort of expected Green Book to travel down this path (story wise), but it shouldn’t diminish a person’s viewing experience with the feature entirely, with Farrelly making the movie enjoyable and feeling genuinely endearing from start to finish. While the movie could’ve been played out as a straight-laced feature, Farrelly does interject a somewhat healthy dose of humor that’s peppered throughout (feeling organic and nature rather than forced), but it doesn’t distract from the film’s core heart of the narrative, which certainly does have more of a captivating nature of the human condition and division of race (during the 1960s).
More interesting is that the film’s screenplay, which was penned by Farrelly along with Brian Hayes Currie and Nick Vallelonga (Tony Lip’s son), seems to have a heart in the right place, showcasing the core fundamentals of a narrative work of two unlikely friends coming together, facing personal obstacles, and adversity on their journey together. This, of course, brings to the film’s main focal point / underlining message of the feature, which is the racial division during the 60s (i.e. the Jim Crow era of the US). Green Book definitely shows those viewpoints well in manner that’s impactful, but never feels too harsh or distasteful that it would make a viewer uncomfortable to watch. There’s a certain level of authenticity to this all (especially with Vallelonga’s son working on this project), which does bring a sort of humanity to the feature as well as reflecting the racial divisions in today’s world. Thus, while the story might seem familiar and does sort of “plays it safe”, Farrelly makes Green Book a wholesome motion picture that truly does blend comedy beats into a heartwarming drama story of differences and race from onset to conclusion.
In terms of presentation, Green Book is a solid one, crafted in a well-made feature film that looks and feels appropriate for the cinematic story it wants to tell. A lot of the main people behind the scenes, including the production designs by Tim Galvin, set decorations by Selina van deen Brink, and costumes by Betsy Heiman feels genuine, taking us (the viewers) to the 1960s of the US within its various settings and locales that the Vallelonga and Shirley visit throughout the course of Green Book’s journey. It may be a minor thing for some people, but the background setting and layout do help bring a cinematic story like this as well as the background character that populate this movie’s world. Additionally, the cinematography work by Sean Porter are also pretty good, with plenty of subtle dramatic camera angles and theatrical poise at a few points in the movie. Also, while the film’s score, which was composed by Kris Bowers, hit all the right melodic notes in the feature (especially the more soft / enlightening moments), the film’s soundtrack is definitely catchy and has a flavor from old school pop tunes of the 60s to Shirley’s masterful piano performances.
There were a few problems that I had with Green Book that, while didn’t derail the movie at all, could’ve been edited or expanded upon in certain areas in attempt to making a sharper feature film. Of course, I’m not saying that the film is dull (by any means), but…. well…you know what I mean. Well, for starters, the film does have a few pacing issues that mostly occur during the first half of the movie. The narrative setup build for Green Book (simple enough) seems to take a bit too long. Yes, it’s understandable that he we (the viewers) have to be presented with an introduction to both characters of Vallelonga and Shirley, but it does take a little bit for the film to sort of “pick up the pace”, with Farrelly giving a somewhat elongated intro in the first act in “setting everything up”. Thus, the pacing beats of the feature is a little off in various parts of Green Book. This is also most apparent in the film’s runtime, which is 130 minutes (two hours and ten minutes), has the movie “feel” long and possible could have been edited down a good ten minutes or so…. for a more tightly woven feature presentation.
Another problem I found with the movie is that the certain characters aspects and background information is limited to the character of Dr. Shirley. Naturally, the film’s screenplay gives a lot of “devoted time” to exploring different viewpoints and homelife to Tony Vallelonga, but not so much to Dr. Don Shirley. The movie hints a lot of about his life and backstory, but I kind of wanted to see a little bit more, especially since (given the two men) he has the more “interesting” life in exploring and learning more about him could’ve been beneficial to the overall narrative of Green Book. I’m not staying it derails the movie, but he seems more of underdeveloped of two lead characters and I kind of wished the Farrelly (along with Currie and Vallelonga) could’ve gave more understanding to Shirley’s life. There’s also the problem with the movie’s supporting players, but I’ll get into that in one of the paragraphs below.
Additionally, Green Book has come under some criticism with viewers on how accurate it portrays its characters (i.e. Tony Lip and Don Shirley). Naturally, this is usually the common problem with a cinematic representation when basing its narrative on a “true story”, with the film’s script / screenplay usually taking certain events of the story (addition, removals, or taking out of context) and presenting them in a different manner. Again, this is almost a common practice in adapting a “based on true story” as the movie director / screenplay writer tries to “spice up” the film’ story. Thus, certain aspects of Green Book’s story might be a little bit fabricated and / or altered from what actually happened. Still, the core fundamentals of the narrative remain the same and is definitely a good story (all around) …. even if some things were tailored to make it a theatrical motion picture. Again, this is a somewhat common practice in adapting movies that are based on true life events, so (personally) it didn’t bother me that much. However, it might for some. I guess it’s really in “the eye of the moviegoing beholder”.
Perhaps one of the greatest strengths that the movie has going for it is the actual casting of Green’s Book two primary characters with actors Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali playing the feature’s central characters of Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga and Dr. Don Shirley respectfully. Mortensen, known for his roles in Eastern Promises, Captain Fantastic, and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, is most definitely the more comical (and shower) of the two, portrayal the “larger than life” character of Tony Lip. While most of his past performances have a more serious / gravitas, Mortensen seems to have a bit more fun, loosening up as the Italian street-smart bouncer. In lesser hands, the character of Tony Lip could’ve been played in a more stereotypical conventional manner of a New Yorker Italian caricature, but Mortensen does a really great job in transforming into the character in his dialect, body language, and his physical appearance (gaining weight for the role). However, while he surely does interject a lot humor into Green Book, Mortensen also brings the right amount of seriousness when a particular scene is called upon, which makes his portrayal of Tony Lip a wholesome one.
Likewise, Ali, known for his roles in Hidden Figures, Moonlight, and House of Cards, is the more reserve of the two (complementing Mortensen’s Tony) as the more worldly / classy character of Dr. Don Shirley. Of course, Ali has proven himself to be quite a great character actor in some of his more recent acting endeavors and clearly does show that in Green Book, tapping into his character’s plight of individual who is caught between two worlds and (giving his circumstances and the time period he lives in) can’t be himself. He gives Shirley a more cool, suave, and sophisticated aura / demeanor throughout, but also imbues the character with a certain vulnerability, which does help in lending a hand of the feature’s more character dramatic points. Like I said, above, there could’ve been more depth and insight into the character of Shirley, but Ali’s terrific performance as the talented musician definitely elevates the character beyond those minor criticisms.
Together, Mortensen and Ali are a perfect match for Green Book, with each one playing off each with and definitely sharing a chemistry that plays up the “mutual respect” their characters have for each other. Whatever you make this of the film’s story (whether play out or not interesting), no one can deny the incredible strong performances that both Mortensen and Ali give in Green Book.
With the movie primarily focusing on the characters of Tony Lip and Don Shirley, much of the supporting cast of the film gets lost in the background of Green Book, filling in moments here and there that either bolster a particular event or play to strengthen character build pieces for the two main leads. Even actress Linda Cardellini (Avengers: Age of Ultron and Hunter Killer), who plays Tony’s wife in the movie Dolores Vallelonga, can’t really break the mold as the somewhat classic wife that misses her husband. Granted, Cardellini makes the most of her short screen-time and does a good job in the role, but, given how the movie is structured, doesn’t really break any new ground in the character. The rest of the cast fills in Green Book’s story, with many characters popping in and out of the feature’s narrative when called upon with most interacting (in some capacity) to Tony Lip and Shirley. This includes appearances by actor Dimiter D. Marinov (Baskets and The Act of Valor) as Oleg (a Cello musician of the Don Shirley trio), actor Mike Hatton (Shoot the Hero and Vigilante Diaries) as George (a bass musician of the Don Shirley trio), actor Sebastian Maniscalco (The House and Tag) as Johnny Venere, actor Von Lewis (Legends & Lies and I Saw the Light) as Bobby Rydell, actor Tom Virtue (Even Stevens and The Secret Life of the American Teenager) as Morgan Anderson, actor Brian Stepanek (The Loud House and The Suite Life of Zack and Cody) as Graham Kindell, actor Iqbal Theba (Glee and The Brink) as Amit, and actor P.J. Byrne (The Wolf on Wall Street and Rampage) as Dr. Shirley’s unnamed Record Executive Producer. Again, all of these actors give good performance, but are limited to small supporting roles with most serving to the two main leads of Green Book. Lastly, Nick and Frank Vallelonga appear as minor characters in the movie as Rudy Vallelonga and Augie.
Musician artist Dr. Don Shirley and hired driver / bodyguard Tony Lip Vallelonga head on an eight-week musical concert journey to the USA’s deep South circa 1962, facing social adversity and learning more about each other in the movie Green Book. Director Peter Farrelly latest film sees the classic narration premise of two people (from two different backgrounds) and how they come together; working across the filmmaking board in being a heartwarming story. While the movie does have a few issues with its pacing and “by the book” notions of racial tensions and situations, the film excels with Farrelly’s direction, an acute screenplay, a meaningful story to tell, and some terrific performances (most notable in the feature’s two leads). Personally, I liked this movie. It was definitely a wholesome feature film that (again) showcases some great performances from its cast as well as being a poignant tale of humanity and finding “common ground” in those who are different from each other. Even as an Oscar type movie, Green Book is a solid endeavor of achievement (and that’s a good thing). Thus, my recommendation for this movie is solid “highly recommended” one as it’s a crowd-pleasing movie and something for everyone to learn…regardless of race or social class. In the end, whatever you take away from this movie, there’s no doubt that Green Book is a heartwarming, crowd pleasing feature that shows two individuals (from completely two different backgrounds) can come together and form a bond of friendship and respect; a somewhat profound remedy to today’s current trying times of racial division.
4.3 Out of 5 (Highly Recommended)
Released On: November 16th, 2018
Reviewed On: March 6th, 2019
Green Book is 130 minutes long and is rated for PG-13 for thematic content, language, including racial epithets, smoking, some violence, and suggestive material