“The Green Book” is a historical biopic detailing the Don Shirley Trio’s real-life 1962 concert tour of the Deep South, focusing on the interplay between Jamaican- American Shirley and his white bodyguard and driver, Tony Vallelonga. The former is, oddly enough, probably best known for his acting career, which included roles in The Godfather and The Sopranos.
The best way of describing it would be a buddy road trip film, with a fair amount of drama lightened by regular infusions of humor, carried by an excellent interplay between the two leads.
Said two leads are Viggo Mortensen, whose image shall eternally see red into nerd subculture for his role as Aragorn in the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings films, and Mahershala Ali, his best known roles being Juan of Moonlight and Boggs in The Hunger Games films. Both of these actors bring their best to ‘The Green Book,” with Mortensen’s portrayal of Vallelonga as a brash, fast-talking, Italian bouncer who signs on with Shirley after his usual gig at the Copacabana is put on hold for two months during renovations. This provides an excellent contrast to Ali’s composed, quiet, piano virtuoso.
Vallelonga’s son, Nick, wrote the screenplay for the film, taking the title from the motorist’s guide that helped African-Americans navigate the United States safely under the Jim Crow laws, so it is unsurprising that much of the film takes Vallelonga’s perspective. The film is a Peter Farrelly vehicle, a surprising fact given Farrelly’s best known projects are slapstick comedies like Dumb and Dumber.
Regardless, the more sensitive content is handled decidedly well. Granted, there are a few scenes where the attempts at comedy come far closer to crossing a line than most audiences will be comfortable with. The scene where Vallelonga teaching Shirley to enjoy fried chicken is definitely one of these, but what prevents it from going over the line is the skill of the actors and how they bring out each of the characters’ traits. As this is based on a true story, I cannot say which of these scenes came particularly close to the line or if any actually happened.
In any case, while the film certainly has its fair share of uncomfortable or corny moments, it’s still a solid feel-good flick that’s worth a watch.
All in all, Four out of Five: Worth the price of admission.