Why is a film called ‘Green Book’? Because it deals with race and black and white relations of America in the early 1960’s.
A Green Book was specifically, a guidebook printed for African-American motorists travelling in America’s south with recommendations on places to stay and eat where they won’t get discriminated against. Jazz pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) takes this book with him after he hires racist bigoted Italian Frank ‘Tony Lip’ Vallelonga (an excellent Viggo Mortensen) to be his driver on a two month concert tour. The nightclub where Frank worked had shut down so he was in need of a job, perhaps any job, to support his loving wife and two young sons. So Frank packs away his racist views and becames a sort of ‘Driving Mr. Daisy.’
Of course nothing goes smoothly during the tour, especially when Shirley misbehaves with another man at a YMCA, with Frank left to pick up the pieces, and realizing then that this is why Shirley’s marriage to a woman never worked out. And Frank also introduces Shirley to the simple pleasures of life that he is missing, including eating fried chicken with his hand (something evidently that, hard to believe, Shirley never did). And after two hours we can see where this film is literally taking us, and what will happen between these two men during the trip.
‘Green Book’ is a true story, and directed by a subdued Peter Farrelly (‘There’s Something About Mary,’ ‘Dumb and Dumber’) it’s as slow as molasses on a hot day – but Mortensen lightens up the screen in every scene he is in – he’s fantastic and is the take away of this film. Ali, while good, seems a bit stiff throughout, and I don’t understand why he is winning all the awards (Richard E. Grant is so much better in ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me.’) Nevertheless, ‘Green Book’ is a good study in race relations in America in that time when JFK was President and Marilyn Monroe was the star of the moment.
Reviewed by Tim Baros