‘Green Book’ Review: Worlds Colliding, With Heart And Soul

The premise of the new film, Green Book, puts much emphasis on the contrast of a white Italian and a black virtuoso pianist as they travel the deep south on a tour. And for a film directed by Peter Farrelly, of the infamous Farrelly brothers (Dumb and Dumber, There’s Something About Mary), you would almost expect the film to be a buddy road trip comedy. Instead, Farrelly and his cast delivers one of the best, most heartfelt stories of the year and easily a contender for best picture, as Green Book has heart and soul with more to spare.

Green Book stars Mahershala Ali as Dr. Donald Shirley and Viggo Mortensen as Tony Lip, two men from very different worlds. Dr. Shirley is a wealthy, accomplished pianist who has an apartment on top of Carnegie Hall, and Tony is a bouncer at a nightclub, who does odd jobs around his neighborhood to make rent for he, his wife Dolores (Linda Cardellini) and their kids. Dr. Shirley’s record label wants him to tour the south — the deep south, and they hire Tony to be his driver (and bodyguard). Tony is Italian through and through, and his world views are — let’s say narrow. He also has a bit of a racist streak. But money is money, and the record company is paying well, so he takes the job.

Green Book Review

This sets off an unlikely journey that sees Tony grow as a person, and sees Dr. Shirley come face-to-face with the world outside of his metaphorical high castle in New York City. The results of both are jarring and realistic, but something else happens on this journey — the two men connect and a true friendship is born, one of respect and love for one another. In fact, Green Book sells the idea of racial injustices, but the true takeaway here is the coming together of these two men who became lifelong friends, as this is based on a true story.

The Negro Motorist Green Book, of which the film is named, comes from a travel guide created by African-American postal worker Victor H. Green, who compiled a list of all the restaurants, stops, and hotels that served colored people in the 1930s and it served as a road map for African-Americans to use when traveling the country. Tony is given a copy of this same book by the record execs and he uses it to make sure Dr. Shirley can travel on his music tour.

Academy Award winner Ali stuns as Dr. Shirley. This is a man with many layers, and he never once plays the victim. He’s a black man in the 1960s, dealing with Jim Crow laws and prejudices as he travels from his safe place in Manhattan to some very dangerous places for a man with his skin color. Add that Dr. Shirley has only known luxury, and even the thought of eating friend chicken with his hands is repulsive, his character arc expands greatly. This sets up some interesting obstacles for the character to overcome. Ali makes the journey memorable with his stellar performance as the audience can see Dr. Shirley grow as much as Tony grows, and both men are very changed by the end of the film. Mahershala Ali is one of the best actors working today, and this performance is yet another feather in his ever-growing cap of exemplary acting.

Green Book Review

Academy Award nominee Mortensen matches Ali’s skill with his Tony Lip. Again, this is man who goes on a very personal and rewarding character arc himself, and he learns more about the injustice of the world — an injustice that was just accepted by white America, and it changes him. Most of the laughs come from Tony and his actions, but when things get bad, there’s also that feeling of the hero complex, where the audience knows that Tony is the one person that can get the two men out of some hairy situations.

Mortensen is a fine actor, and he shines here. In fact, both men work amazingly well together, with neither man overshadowing the other. To see a duo this skilled perform at such a high level for two hours, I truly didn’t want the film to end. By the time the credits rolled, I felt that I knew both Dr. Shirley and Tony Lip, and that highlights the power of the performances in Green Book.

The script by Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie, and Peter Farrelly does an amazing job of showing the social injustice, but not sugar coating it or even trying to justify it. The audience I saw this with gasped at some of the things that happened on-screen, and this was barely over 50 years ago. This was my grandfather’s generation, and to see how far we have come — and how much further we need to go is eye opening.

Peter Farrelly is known for his raunchy comedies, but Green Book is his true coming out party as a force in telling dramatic stories with hints of comedy. Farrelly doesn’t gloss over the ugliness of the world and puts it all on display, without shoving it down our throats. It takes a deft touch to make a film like this, and he excels.

Even with the racial overtones, Green Book, at its core, is a film about two men from different worlds who come together and become friends — lifelong friends. And that is the biggest takeaway here; this is film about friendship, not racial issues in Jim Crow America. In many ways, Green Book resembles a film like Planes, Trains, and Automobiles in that both feature men from different worlds, both with their own issues, who come together on a journey — both road trips — and end up friends. I cry every time at the end of John Hughes’ classic, and I wept openly at the end of Green Book. Not out of sadness, but because my heart was touched and I felt strong emotions. Much like Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is the seminal Thanksgiving film, Green Book fits in perfectly as another must-see holiday film, this one ending at Christmas. I know that I will be watching this every year in late December, and it will become a tradition, and I’ll be glad to revisit these old friends each and every year going forward.

Green Book is rated PG-13 and is in theaters on Thanksgiving.

Green Book Review
out of 5

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