“Green Book” is truly one of the best films of last year. Performances by Viggo Mortenson (who gained weight for this role) and (a very elegant) Mahershala Ali are clearly worthy of nominations for the Oscar.
In fact, both men were nominated for Golden Globes; Ali won for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role. At the Golden Globes, the screenplay for Green Book took top honors, and the film itself was awarded Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy.
The movie is based on a true story. It is 1962 when we first meet Tony Vallelonga, a bouncer at the Copacabana in New York City. He lives in the Bronx with his extended Italian-American family always nearby. He’s got a lovely wife, Dolores, played perfectly by Linda Cardellini, and two boys, Frankie and Nick (who will later help write this screenplay). When the Copa has to close for two months for repairs, Tony is strapped for cash. Suddenly, he finds he has been recommended for a job as the driver for a two-month tour of a world famous pianist.
Dr. Don Shirley is an African-American pianist with PhDs in Music, Psychology and Liturgical Music. The tour will take The Don Shirley Trio into the Deep South. “Doc” will need someone to serve as more than his driver for this trip. His record company has provided two matching sky blue Cadillacs and Tony will drive Dr. Shirley in one. The bass player George and the cellist, Oleg, will drive themselves in the other one. Tony will have to arrange accommodations in the South using the Green Book, a listing of hotels and restaurants that welcome African-American travelers, as most places in the region did not.
Over the two months of the tour, these two very different men come to trust and appreciate each other. Eventually, they influence each other’s lives, opening each of them up to more that life has to offer. Doc helps Tony write letters home to his wife. Tony encourages Doc to embrace Rhythm and Blues, which was growing in popularity on the radio. Where Tony’s life appears to be an open book, it takes most of the film to reveal much about Doc and how he came to this career.
To tell you more is to take away the delight of the film. The story carries you along, and the dialogue is superb. Clearly, problems will come up in the South of the early 1960s, but the film handles them well. Pay attention to the visuals and you will get a feel for how it was for Doc to willingly play for a part of the nation that did not accept him as the genius he was. There is a story here of courage. There is courage, too, as Doc and Tony both find themselves out of their cultural element in this part of the country.
Green Book is “Rated PG-13 for thematic content, language including racial epithets, smoking, some violence and suggestive material.” Some critics have noted that the film’s racism theme is old territory. But this reviewer found the treatment of these scenes refreshing. If you don’t want to miss a great movie from 2018, don’t miss “Green Book”.