Green Book. Dir.: Peter Farrelly. Stars: Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali
By Willem van der Linde
Iza and I saw Green Book last weekend. This coming weekend is the glittering occasion of the 91st Oscars, and Green Book has been nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. Its leading male actor (Viggo Mortensen) has also been nominated for Best Actor, and the supporting actor (Mahershala Ali), as Best Supporting Actor. It is certainly a movie worth spending about R80 on seeing.
Directed by Peter Farrelly, Green Book relates the true tale of a 1962 African American classical and jazz pianist, Don Shirley, who decides, in a deliberatively provocative move, to tour the Deep South. He needs a bodyguard and general factotum and, by word of mouth, gets to hear of Tony Vallelonga, aka Tony Lip (because, as Tony himself explains, he is known to be good at bulls***ing people, although he would never ever lie).
Tony is a blue-collar bigoted bouncer, an Italian immigrant, who grew up in the Bronx. He has a loving wife and two boys, but has just lost his job. He applies for the new job, but when told he would have to be more than a body guard, effectively a manservant, he declines. The employer, Shirley, relents on the job description and Tony is hired.
There begins their journey literally speaking, but also figuratively speaking, as the two dip deeper into the heartland of stark racism in the heyday of the Klan. The inevitable occurs: situations develop that draw them closer to each other. Tony’s own racism melts away before the compelling rationality of Shirley’s refinement; as does Shirley’s superiority before the honesty of Tony’s work ethic. In the process stereotypes are displayed and destroyed, and the viewer is drawn to the likability of them both. In the end one is reminded that racial differences are just an excuse for not getting to know the other better, and that, surprise surprise, we are all just the same.
I would give the film a firm 4 out of 5.
Inspiration for the script and the movie title
The script was written by Farrelly, Brian Hayes Currie and Vallelonga’s son, Nick Vallelonga, based on interviews with his father and Shirley, as well as letters his father wrote to his mother. The film is named after The Negro Motorist Green Book, a mid-20th century guidebook for African-American travelers written by Victor Hugo Green, to help them find motels and restaurants that would accept them.
Green Book had its world première at the Toronto International Film Festival on 11 September 2018, where it won the People’s Choice Award. It was then theatrically released in the United States on 16 November 2018, by Universal Pictures, and has grossed over $127 million worldwide. The film received positive reviews from critics, with Mortensen and Ali’s performances being lauded, although it drew some criticism for its perceived historical inaccuracies.
Green Book won the National Board of Review award for the best film of 2018, and was also chosen as one of the top 10 films of the year by the American Film Institute. Among other accolades, the film won the Producers Guild of America Award for Best Theatrical Motion Picture and the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy.