By Tim Nasson
The movie Green Book, which takes its title from the book of the same name, “a travel guide to safe lodging, dining and business options for the Negro,” during the era of segregation and Jim Crow laws, is set against the backdrop of a country grappling with the volatility of the Civil Rights Movement.
In the film, based on an incredible true story, and one of the best movies of the year, or any year, for that matter, Frank Anthony Vallelonga, aka Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen), a New York City bouncer from an Italian neighborhood in The Bronx, is hired to drive and protect Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), a world-class Black pianist, on a concert tour from Manhattan to the Deep South.
During their two month road trip, right before Christmas 1962, the two men are confronted with racism and violence and are comforted by generosity, kindness and their own unique senses of humor. Tony Lip is crass and uneducated, but street smart. Shirley is a musical genius, (performing his first concert at age 3), not comfortable in his own skin. The movie brilliantly captures the humanity of each character, (Tony Lip protecting Shirley at all costs, no matter the reason, including after being caught in a YMCA steam room with another man), and Shirley, among other things, helping the inarticulate Tony learn to compose compelling letters to his wife, Dolores, (a career defining performance by Linda Cardellini), whom he has promised to write to as much as possible, since “long distance costs too much.”
The fact that Oscar nominee Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic, Eastern Promises) and Oscar winner Mahershala Ali (Moonlight) give the best performances of their careers in the movie Green Book is not shocking. They play off each other as if they were actually living these characters’ lives.
What is surprising is that the film’s director, producer and co-writer, Peter Farrelly, is someone that is best known for co-writing and directing (with his brother Bobby) one of the raunchiest comedies ever, There’s Something About Mary, and one of the most vapid comedies in history, Dumb & Dumber.
What most people don’t know is that Farrelly holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from Columbia University and has written two critically acclaimed novels.
Green Book, Farrelly’s pièce de résistance, is sure to be a Golden Globe and Oscar nominee for original screenplay, actor (Mortensen), supporting actor (Ali) and most likely Best Picture.
If your kids are twelve or over, take the whole family to Green Book, as it is as much a history lesson for the kids as it is a feel-good, tear-jerker for the adults. (As a heads-up to parents of young children, while the film is rated PG-13, there is quite a lot of profanity, including two instances of the F-word).
Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali Achieve Onscreen Magic in Green Book.