It won the 2019 Oscars for best picture, best screenplay, and best supporting actor; it’s at the center of more or less meaningless controversies about how to treat racism in a movie; it earned more than 150 million dollars worldwide… so I finally saw Green Book, the movie directed by Peter Farrelly and starring Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali. And I had a great time!
Let me be honest straight away: I think that this film is a great comedy and a perfect buddy movie. I love buddy movies: I’m thinking about stuff like 48 Hrs. (1982) by Walter Hill and Lethal Weapon (1987) by Richard Donner, as well as Hot Fuzz (2007) by Edgar Wright and Die Hard With A Vengeance (1995) by John McTiernan. And, being Italian, my DNA carries the Bud Spencer & Terence Hill gene because I’ve seen all the movies starring those two Italian actors. In Green Book I found the same old winning formula: put together two diverse characters, in this case a fat and rude Italian-American and a well-educated and rich African-American artist, and make them travel together, now through the South of the United States. Done, that’s it, this has to work! And it does!
Tony Vallelonga (nicknamed Tony Lip, played by Viggo Mortensen weighing 23 kg heavier than normal) is a corpulent Italian-American who can do basically any job to provide for his family. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) is a talented piano player who’s about to embark on a tour of the Southern States and needs a driver/bodyguard. At first, Shirley despises Vallelonga for his ignorance and Vallelonga despises Shirley for not being white, but of course by the end of the trip they have become best buddies and there will be a great complicity and empathy between the two. In short, Green Book is everything you can expect from a feel-good movie. And I’m saying that without forgetting the strong background of the story offering an intelligent social commentary on racism in the United States in the early Sixties, of course! The green book of the title, for instance, was a guide for African-Americans who wanted to travel in the Southern States avoiding problems due to the color of their skin.
In fact (yes, let’s immediately deal with this discussion topic), I don’t think that we should concentrate on Spike Lee’s controversy about the Oscar going to Green book rather than BlacKkKlansman due to the fact that the former treats racism in a more friendly way… My point is that I think that Peter Farrelly simply wanted to make a comedy dealing with racism, not a strong film against racism like that of Spike Lee! I came out of the cinema after seeing BlacKkKlansman saddened and angry, while after I watched Green book I was smiling and laughing thinking about the funny lines of the movie. These are two different genres! And the fact that the film was written by Tony Lip’s son who simply wanted to tell the story of the friendship between his father and Shirley shows even more the “innocent” intentions of Peter Farrelly in making this film. Add to this the fact that Peter Farrelly isn’t known for his dramas, far from it! He worked on movies like Dumb And Dumber (1994) and There’s Something About Mary (1998)!
Returning to the film, I think that the two main actors did a wonderful job. Ali has great charisma and a truly portentous attitude, he maintains an exceptional charm throughout the whole movie and in every situation. And Viggo manages to be credible as an Italo-American without being one. I read that, in order to nail the right accent, he watched all the Sopranos’ episodes featuring Tony Lip (yes, the real Tony Lip worked in The Sopranos)! And he did well, so much so that apparently Tony’s son spent a lot of time crying during the shooting of the movie because Viggo Mortensen and Linda Cardellini reminded him a lot about his real parents.
The screenplay is simple but perfect. There are funny jokes, sometimes even with references to dialogues taking place more than an hour before (the dankeschön said by Tony during the toast before the final concert is super funny if you remember the first dialogue between Tony and Shirley on Russian and German languages!), and some scenes are memorable. For example, when Tony meets his New York friends, the dialogue between him and Shirley trying to convince him to stay with him by offering him more money is really touching. And the sketch of the gun (I knew you had a gun!) is brilliant! Although, to tell the truth, it should have been detected by the police when the two were arrested after Tony punched the police officer earlier.
Among other things, I find it interesting that the screenplay was written by the son of Tony Lip: this is the story that he was told by his father, who was a notorious bullshitter. How much of what we’re seeing is the truth and how much is Tony’s version of it? It seems that Don Shirley gave permission to Nick Vallelonga to make the film conditional of it coming out after his death, but Shirley’s family got angry at the film makers for the treatment reserved to the artist. Who should we believe? And above all, does it matter? I don’t think so. Green Book is not a documentary: it’s a film capable of being funny when it needs to be funny, and capable of making people think when it’s time to think (even helping the viewer too much, with dialogues written with the sole purpose of cconveying take-home messages). I think that it’s a great movie, with an amazing soundtrack, and I highly recommend it, ciao!
PS: kiss the kids! :–D