“I’m here for the driver job. I’m Tony Lip,” says working-class, Italian-American Tony Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen). Composer/pianist Dr. Don Shirley, Ph.D. (Mahershala Ali) says, “I need a driver for my concert tour and a personal assistant — someone who can iron my clothes and shine my shoes. Do you see any issues working for a black man?” “I don’t iron clothes,” says Tony, “or shine shoes, but I can handle trouble.” That’s the set-up for this odd-couple road movie, set in 1962, in America’s Jim Crow south and, as Hollywood says, “inspired by a true story.” Trust me, you’ll like this movie.
How do Tony and “Doc” (as Tony calls him) overcome class and racial differences as they travel? What life lessons do they teach each other? How can you not like these two remarkable men? For answers, see “Green Book.”
Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali are truly excellent as Tony and Doc, enjoyably mismatched characters who help us feel better about the world. (Both are Oscar nominees: Mortensen, Best Actor; Ali, Best Supporting Actor.) Tony eats too much, smokes constantly and mangles the English language, while Doc, fastidious and sophisticated, has three Ph.D.’s and is a classical musician. His Don Shirley Trio, however, plays popular music, a requirement of the record company paying for the tour. In their back stories, Tony and Doc complement each other. Tony’s strong and loving extended family is just what lonely Doc doesn’t have, estranged as he is from his brother, the only family he has.
Others in the cast include Linda Cardellini as Tony’s beloved wife, Delores, to whom Tony sends poetic love letters, dictated on the road by Doc. Maggie Nixon and Anthony Mangano play coat-check girl and maitre d’ at New York’s Copacabana, where Tony worked as a bouncer.
“Green Book” was smartly directed by Peter Farrelly and co-written by Farrelly, Brian Currie and Nick Vallelonga (Tony’s son). Its title comes from “The Negro Motorist’s Green Book,” an essential guide, published 1936-1966, for African-American travelers in the South looking for safe motels and friendly restaurants. The film is a successful feel-good message movie, well-performed, that will call to mind other films — “The Help” (2011), “The Blind Side” (2009), “Driving Miss Daisy” (1989), and “The Defiant Ones” (1958).
Rated PG-13 for thematic content, language including racial epithets, smoking and some suggestive sexual material, “Green Book” runs 130 minutes. Nominated for Best Picture Academy Award, it’s a must-see, adult film. You’ll like it.
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