Inspired by a true story, Green Book memorializes an eight-week concert tour of the Jim Crow South that was undertaken in the 1962 by African-American classical and jazz pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) and Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen), an Italian-American bouncer who served in the capacity of driver and bodyguard to Shirley.
The screenplay was based on interviews with Shirley and Vallelonga, along with letters Vallelonga wrote to his wife. The film’s title references The Negro Motorist Green Book, a guidebook used during the mid-20th century to help African-American travelers find motels and restaurants that were willing to serve them.
Vallelonga, a bouncer at the famed Copacabana nightclub in New York City, is on the hunt for new employment after the Copa is closed for two months due to renovations. He soon lands an interview to drive for Shirley, whom Vallelonga refers to throughout the film as “Doc.” The interview is disastrous, but Shirley ends up hiring Vallelonga due to his reputation as someone who is dependable and can be trusted to get you from Point A to Point B unscathed.
Vallelonga’s grossly uncultured behavior epically clashes with Shirley’s refined demeanor. This causes their relationship to be quite strained during a good part of the film, and are the basis for most of Green Book’s comedic elements.
The pair begins their tour with the intention of returning home on Christmas Eve. They start in the Midwest before making their way to the Deep South. Vallelonga, who was shown as a casual racist during earlier scenes, eventually finds himself impressed with Shirley’s musical abilities and outraged by the discrimination his boss encounters during the trip. As time goes on, tensions soften between the two and they grow quite fond of each other.
Green Book was a true delight to watch. I especially loved the chemistry between Ali and Mortensen; that’s what really made the film for me. I especially loved Shirley’s line when confronted with racist police officers in a sundown town: “You never win with violence. You only win when you maintain your dignity.” So true. Chosen by the National Board of Review as the best film of 2018, this heartwarming gem of a film is an absolute must-see.
I give Green Book five out of five stars.