This was another sneak preview lucky draw. When we saw the Dreamworks logo in the cinema, we had this split-second thought of “could it be How to train your dragon?!” before the disclaimer “A true story” killed that idea. There were no dragons in Green Book but it is definitely worth it nonetheless.
Let me tell you why in a couple of bullet points in case you don’t want to read the detailed and very thorough review below:
- It’s a movie about the very serious topic of racism but it’s also laced with great humor
- It has two very different main characters that learn a lot from each other and it is heartwarming to see their growth
- It’s all very scenic – even the food looks good, best to have Italian food immediately beforehand
- It’s nominated for 5 Oscars, including Best Picture – that should tell you something
I apologize for the cryptic nature of these bullet points but I feel like everything more descriptive is so nuanced that it needs further explanation. So let’s get started on the detailed bit.
The story follows middle-aged Italian American Tony “Lip” Vallelonga who provides for his family as a bouncer/waiter/taker of opportunities in the Italian Bronx in the 1960s. He’s always hustling but also content in his little world. He earned his nickname “Lip” for his quick wit and ability to talk anyone into (or out of) anything. He is hired by the world-famous African American pianist Doctor Don Shirley who is going on tour with his Don Shirley trio. The tour is planned as a two-month trip through the Southern states and Tony is supposed to be driver and general “facilitator” in one. As they get further south, the attitude of the locals towards Don gets progressively worse – sometimes covert and played down, sometimes ingrained in social structures and sometimes outright violently. This is also were the film’s title-giving element comes in: The Green Book is a real-life guide used by African Americans to identify places they were welcome at in the Southern states and Don and Tony rely on it as well.
During their long car rides, the two -of course- first realize how little they have in common, then figure out each other’s problems and finally become close. It was especially fascinating to see how different their approaches to family and heritage were – and it was the same with their respective reactions to the acts of racism. Both coming from very narrow worlds – one from his ivory tower of fame and artistry, the other from the secluded bubble of the Italian community – each of them saw the vastness of the world outside of their comfort zone for the first time. They did not make sense as companions but they did both learn from the experience and not only from the ugly parts.
I don’t want to get into more detail about the story because that is really it: two guys, one car and a road-trip around a very racist country. It is very serious stuff and the characters are very sharply drawn, bordering on stereotypes if you will, but the elements that make this film great are the unsuspected ones:
The humor – it’s effortless, well placed and much needed for breathers in between. It really kept the audience swinging back and forth between horror and delight, which was a really refreshing feeling. At the same time, it didn’t feel overdone or forced and just flowed effortlessly with the darker themes.
The visuals – the beautiful scenery of turquoise cars, vast fields and Southern mansions was juxtaposed with the grimiest of back rooms, dark alleys and beds where you could just feel the scratchy blankets and bed bug bites on your own skin. I also want to mention the incredible amounts of super tasty looking food – most of it homemade Italian dished – that made my stomach rumble.
The sincerity of Tony “Lip” Vallelonga – for someone introduced as “Lip” and hustling through life in close proximity to the mafia, this guy was refreshingly straight forward. I absolutely adored the way he actually loved his wife and kids but I also respected his work ethic and personal moral compass. Of course he was off in the racism department to begin with and that’s a no go but a focal point of the movie was his development in that area – but otherwise his moral compass was just that of a very straightforward, solid and sincere guy.
All of it makes for a very entertaining movie about a very serious topic. I personally liked it a lot and can definitely recommend it – The Academy seems to think so too, by the way. Green Book is nominated for five Academy Awards including some of the most notable categories: Best Film Editing, Best Actor (Viggo Mortensen), Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali), Best Original Screenplay (Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie, Peter Farelly) and of course the big one: Best Picture. It’s the second Best Picture contender I have seen this year and I have to say, it definitely beats Black Panther. Don’t get me wrong, Black Panther is a wonderful film and I have seen it like five times but this is something else entirely. I hope to see Roma on Netflix before the Awards too so I might have another opinion then but out of the two that I have seen so far, Green Book is my pick for Best Picture. It is also a true story and the screenplay was written by the main character’s own son.
Just so I have addressed it: Apparently, there is some resentment among critics because it is a very “pleasing” and one-sided look on racism with the added issue of the cliché formula of “people forced to spend time together figure out the other is human too”. I get it both of these points and I haven’t seen the other great, more unique, more uncomfortable movies that could’ve been nominated instead. I for one, am all about throwing people in together – it’s a true and tested plot line for romcoms after all – and I like the interactions that stem from putting strangers in a situation where they have to live and work with each other for better or worse. As for the “pleasing” nature of the movie – I for one was glad that it had lighter moments and humor in between because it did break my heart more than a couple of times and I was glad for the break. In my opinion, not every movie on a serious topic has to be gut-wrenching all the way through to have a powerful impact.