“Green Book” (2018)
Running Time: 130 minutes
Written by: Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie and Peter Farrelly
Directed by: Peter Farrelly
Featuring: Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Aliand Linda Cardellini
Dr. Don Shirley:” So if I’m not black enough and if I’m not white enough, then tell me, Tony, what am I?”
Every year around awards time many films are released to try and sway voters of various organisations to give them their support so as to create the message of a quality movie for people to go and watch in theaters, or in any number of ways, depending on its release strategy. The new film, “Green Book” (2018), featuring Viggo Morten senand Mahershala Ali in lead roles is just one of those films, it sets itself out to be a true story, a period piece, it is about class, race as well as viewing a segment of society, in the Southern States of America and the racist way in which they would lead their lives, with absolutely no shame. This movie, named after the The Negro Motorist Green Book (at times styled The Negro Motorist Green-Book or titled The Negro Travelers’ Green Book), which was an annual guidebook for African-American roadtrippers, commonly referred to simply as the Green Book. It was originated and published by New York City mailman Victor Hugo Green from 1936 to 1966, during the era of Jim Crow laws, when open and often legally prescribed discrimination against non-whites was widespread.
There are two main ways to view this movie, either as a true story about two men from different worlds who together enter another world where they must navigate some extremely serious issues that still exist in society today, if you watch the movie this way that is completely fine but there are some concerns that have to be addressed which I will bring up here but will not go into what is right or wrong, as this is up to the viewer. The other way to view the film is to not take it literally, using the characters that exist as cyphers who represent some broad societal issues that, again, still exist today, but who change in ways you want them to change so as to represent the best of humanity, as well as the possibility that all people are able to change, grow and accept things about themselves as well as each other. It could be seen as a kind of road trip fairy-tale, not unlike “The Wizard of Oz” (1936) which this movie borrows from in the best ways. In simplest terms this is a well made movie that points out that there is more than one thing that defines us as human beings, we are complicated beings who for the most part are ruled by emotions that most of us do not understand, not only that but those emotions can have effects in the real world that lead to us perpetuating falsities as well as treating others less than what they deserve to be treated. This is of course the main the main thrust of the Viggo Mortensen character who really is the heart of “Green Book”.
“Green Book” has been co-written and directed by Peter Farrelly who up to this point in his career has been linked to his brother Bobby Farrelly, over the past twenty years they have directed some of the biggest as well as crudest comedies that have been seen in cinemas, not only that they have also been incredibly successful. So it is with some surprise that the director of “Dumb and Dumber” (1995) has created one of the more positively critically reviewed dramas of the year, not only that but it is a kind of civil rights movie that has so far collected some very serious awards notice. What Farrelly has been able to do is to harness three very good performances in Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali and Linda Cardellini coupled with a very trope laden story to bring to the screen a so-called true story that does a very good job in reminding us how far we have come, as well as how far there is to go especially in a story that is told from a white point of view. This is for the most part a road movie, so as the trip unfolds so does the narrative which takes the audience to a few very different places, not all of them work, this is a flawed film that is not surprising as Farrelly is not adept at this genre, nothing in his past even hints at him being interested in anything but gross out comedies.
New York City bouncer Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga is searching for new employment after his nightclub is closed for renovations, eventually landing an interview as a driver for “Doc” Don Shirley, a famed pianist. Their first encounter does not go well, as Tony’s flippant, uncultured behavior clashes with Don’s sophisticated, reserved demeanor. However, Don eventually hires Tony on the strength of others’ word, as he needs someone who can help him stay out of trouble during an eight-week concert tour through the Deep South. They embark with plans to return home on Christmas Eve. Tony is given a copy of the Green Book by Don’s record studio: a guide for black travelers to find safe havens throughout the segregated South.
The two leads of the film in “Green Book” are the excellent as well as supremely talented Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali who have over the years proved they are both assured as well as excellent actors, in this movie they are no different. When I first watched the trailer I was not sure if Mortensen could be believable in playing a mobbed up New Yorker with all that entails, especially the accent, without coming off as a parody of a real person. What Mortensen does is play the part broad so as to embrace the character of Tony completely thereby bringing the audience in on his performance as well as honouring the real person that he is playing, he is as he has been throughout his career just a wonder to behold reminding audiences why he has been nominated for Oscars twice as well as playing very different people over the course of his career. Ali on the other hand is the foil that Mortensen has to spar with for almost the entire running time of the movie. Ali must be more nuanced as he reveals his character slowly through the narrative, as well as playing someone portrayed as tortured but the audience must never feel sorry for him as he is a strong man navigating the world, like many others he never is really able to reveal who he really is for fear of being persecuted, by almost every segment of society at the time.
“Green Book” is an enjoyable movie, there is nothing wrong with enjoying it for what it is, a drama about two men who are from different cultures, backgrounds and have very spate family upbringing and support. This is also a deeply flawed movie with a narrative told from one point of view, that is a white one, with little depth to the African American character which for a movie like this is unforgivable. However this does not make it a bad movie, it just does not make it a great one. This is a message movie with obvious plot points related to the southern states of the US as well as the overtly racist attitudes that exited there, which we see both characters come across, for one it is how he always is treated for the other with his own attitudes towards non whites it is a way for him to walk in someone else’s shoes. Now there were ways for this movie to have been executed in a better way, but this would have taken time as well as making the piece itself into something the writers and director did not want to produce, which is their prerogative, but that is not the world that exists at the moment.
Even taking that into account there is still much about “Green Book” I would recommend, it is a snapshot of history, it is reflective of our current times, it has a character who is not only a minority, but a minority within a minority. There are three great performances from the leads, they are fully committed, and like many other movies they rely on those to carry audiences through the parts of the movie that are either light on story or at times may make little sense because of flaws in the actual plot. This is a good family story that demands to be talked about, what more could people want from a movie but something that sparks conversation as well as further research into this story.