Green Book is Filled to the Brim With Comedy and Food
Green Book is a highly emotional comedy-drama that explores not only the friendship between an unlikely pair but, also the difficulties of being an African American during the time period. It is well titled as a Green book was a guide book for African American travelers back in the 30’s to the late 60’s, during the Jim Crow laws and was designed to tell African American travelers where they could get lodging, food, gas and business in the south. The title feels aptly named as it shows the journey of an African American going deep into the south with his Italian bodyguard and the injustices that they must overcome together as friends.
Green Book follows Tony “Lip” Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen), a loud mouth, quick to temper Italian with a big appetite. It starts with Vallenlonga working as security for the Copacabana until it is shut down for a few months. In that time Vallenlonga needs work and gets recommended a job driving around for Doctor Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) a well-educated, proper man who is a gifted pianist and can speak multiple languages including Italian. Vallenlonga has to not only drive Shirley to all the shows but also protect him from all the racist white people all over the south. As the two drive down exploring the south and visiting the varies locations that Shirley has to play, Vallelonga sees the various hardships that Shirley is forced to live through.
The most interesting aspect of the movie is the relationship that develops between Shirley and Vallelonga on screen. Like one would expect from a loudmouth slob trying to get along with a proper clean man, the two of them don’t get along all to well at first. Shirley is always telling Vallelonga to stay quiet and to keep his eyes on the road through the beginning of the film. The two of them are reminiscent of The Odd Couple, in how they get along. Vallelonga is the immature, messy one, while Shirley is the uptight, clean and proper man making the interactions between the two feel very fun to watch, as the pair clash on many topics, which often occurs in a very comedic way.
Part of what makes the whole movie so realistic and entertaining to watch is the amazing performances by all the actors, especially by the two lead roles played by Ali and Mortensen. The performance given by Ali was magnificent as he was able to make such emotional facial expressions that without hearing a word the viewer knows exactly what Shirley is thinking the entire way through the film. His reactions felt very real and intense really showing the amazing talent of Ali. He gives an especially impressive act when he yells about not knowing where he truly belongs being a well-educated classically trained, African American in that time period. On the other hand, Mortensen also gave an amazing performance with the appearance and overall soul of being an Italian-American in the time period, and even gives a very realistic Italian-American accent. The two actors work so well together that it truly feels like they are best friends not only in the film, but in real life, most of the back and forth between them feel like something you would see in real life. What’s really impressive about their performances is how much they eat on camera during this film. In almost every scene that Shirley isn’t playing music or being harassed, Vallenlonga is eating some kind of food. Whether its sandwiches, chicken, spaghetti, meatballs, calamari, etc. in every scene you can expect Mortensen to be stuffing his face. Which due to the nature of the two characters allows for a lot of comedic banter and gives a much lighter tone to a movie with such a heavy topics.
The film is not shy of showing how not only random white people would act towards them but also how cops and laws affected them as well. In one scene Vallelonga has to stop multiple white men from killing Shirley just for going in a bar, in another scene Shirley is told that he can’t eat with people that he performed for, almost every other scene has another example of Shirley being forced to go through another example of racism. Every example seemed to be handled by the writers extremely well without showing too little or too much at a time, and always shows the two friends overcoming it together.
With such a heavy topic like racism and overcoming it, this film does an incredible job of showing the injustices they face, but still make the movie about the two friends overcoming such adversities together. Every bit of the film felt real thanks to the amazing performances given in it and the amazing writing of the film that makes the conversations feel so natural. This film really holds nothing back and delivers an amazing story.