When you hear the name Peter Farrelly, images of quirky comedies like Dumb and Dumber or There’s Something About Mary come to mind. However, this year Farrelly took a turn for the better with Green Book (2018), a film based off of the true story of the friendship of Frank Anthony Vallelonga, otherwise known as “Tony Lip” (Viggo Mortensen) and Donald Shirley (Mahershala Ali). The title of the film itself holds so much significance and captures the films theme perfectly. The Green Book, formally titled The Negro Motorist Green Book, was a guide to aide black motorists in their travel across places in the South parts of America. Inside listed establishments such as lodging, food, and other businesses.
The thing is, Green Book goes exactly how you think it would. Is this a flaw or simply a product of the general knowledge of race relations throughout history? The film explores the depth of deep-rooted racism in America as Donald Shirley a Jamaican-American pianist, tours the Deep South. This is something that everyone, or hopefully everyone, has some knowledge of. With this, events of the film aren’t necessarily surprising but, that doesn’t mean they aren’t impactful or well done.
A few moments stick out in my mind from this film. The first of which is a subtle but fantastic parallel put forth of Dr. Shirley and a group of black farm workers. After pulling over on a side road, Dr. Shirley looks across the street to the farm and its workers and there is this moment where the workers and Shirley hold each other’s gaze, reveling in a moment of self-awareness and realization as the scene transitions to an all-white party where Dr. Shirley is performing. The second moment comes after Shirley is involved in a bar fight. Sitting in front of a mirror before his show, Shirley camouflages his bruises with makeup. This holds such a strong symbolism of the way he holds himself and the way in which he deals with the incidents of racial injustices posed upon him: just put on a strong face and keep on going.
Despite the film’s serious themes, it also has an element of comedy to it. Whether it’s the seemingly never-ending appetite of Tony or the way in which Tony and Shirley have very diverging personalities. Even though Shirley and Tony are very different, they complement each other well. Throughout their time together during their two-month road trip, Tony and Shirley get to know each other and a lifelong friendship blooms. Both Shirley and Tony learn from each other.
Let’s take a look at Tony first. Tony comes from an Italian-American household in the Bronx. A family man with two kids and big old Italian family. Previously working as a bouncer, you can say that Tony became attune to the power of persuasion. With the club holding its business due to renovations, Tony finds work as a driver for Dr. Donald Shirley. At first, Tony was very apprehensive towards this. Although he never explicitly states so, Tony has deep-rooted racist tendencies. For example, after two black workers come over to his house to do their duties, he throws away the glasses which they drank from. This obviously poses a problem with his employment with Dr. Shirley. Nevertheless, it’s good money so Tony accepts the job. Tony holds a very narrow view of black people and this can be seen through his various remarks throughout the film. However, with the help of Dr. Shirley, Tony gains a sense of self-awareness and begins his journey of major character transformation.
Now, Donald Shirley mirrors Tony almost completely. Holding himself with prestige and class, Shirley’s character acts as a foil character to Tony. Any preconceived ideas that Tony places upon Shirley are quickly dispelled. For reasons we come to understand later on in the film, Shirley presents himself as a very reserved and rather serious individual. But, throughout the film, Tony slowly chips away at the hard exterior and by the end of the film, Shirley lets himself live in the moment, embracing life as Tony would.
Ultimately, the film has something for everyone. Whether you enjoy a good laugh as Tony holds his pride in eating twenty-six hot dogs for a bet or appreciate the honest depiction of the racial climate of a 1960s America, this story of a beautifully developed friendship has it.
Rating – 7.5/10