Culture Clash 

Green Book
Stars: Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini, Dimeter Marinov, Mike Hatton and Iqbal Theba
Director: Peter Farrelly
Scriptwriters: Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie and Peter Farrelly
Cinematography: Sean Porter
Composer: Kris Bowers
Universal Pictures
Rating: R for violence, profanity and themed material
Running Length: 120 minutes 

“Green Book” refers to a reference guide that African Americans used when traveling. The motels/restaurants would accept those of color without a problem. Otherwise, there was a problem. This film is based on a true incident when composer/pianist Don Shirley and his Trio began a tour of the Deep South in 1962 to promote Shirley’s latest LP and popular piece, “Water Boy.” The record company had two turquoise Cadillacs for the group to travel in and all Shirley needed was a driver for his car. Hence, the beginning of the film where Shirley (elegantly played by Mahershala Ali) is interviewing drivers and meets Tonylip (all one word and played robustly by Viggo Mortensen who put on 40 pounds for this role.)  The running joke in this film is that no one can pronounce Tony’s last name, Vallelonga, so he just becomes Tonylip. 

“Green Book” is a character study of two men from different cultures. Tony is of Italian descent and has always lived in New York City. He has a cast iron stomach and the winner of hot dog eating contests. Tony is married to warm-hearted Delores (Linda Cardellini) and has a family. Tony works odd jobs as a club bouncer or driver, but it is when he decides not to take a certain job that he is on the outs with his “employers” He answers an ad to be a driver for an 8-week tour and meets Don Shirley. The contrast is sharp between foul-mouthed Tony and the educated and widely-traveled, Dr. Don Shirley. However, Shirley seems to see a diamond in the rough here, and so an agreement is made to be Shirley’s driver. The other two musicians of the Trio are Oleg (Dimeter Marinov) and George (Mike Hatton.) There is humor on the trip as Shirley tries to “culturize” Tony by eliminating profanity, rough table manners, sloppy clothes, and so on. You always know, though, who is the employer. On The road trip starts in the Midwest through Ohio, Indiana, and then begins to head South through Louisville, Raleigh, Macon, Memphis, Little Rock and then Baton Rouge. Their friendship is growing. Meanwhile, back home, Delores is getting wonderful letters from Tony. 

Being stopped by the police for having a turquoise Cadillac and a white man driving a black man, brings attention to the men, and before you know it, Tony has hit a police officer, Shirley has bruises and they end up in jail. How they get out is near-miraculous, but they go on their way and the indignities come one after another. Shirley will let them pass until he can leave this part of the country, but Tony is ready to argue and fight. The last straw happens in Birmingham. Ala. 

“Green Book” centers on relationships. Tony’s is with his family and everyone gets along, but Shirley is estranged from his relatives. Tony is open, gregarious and ready to laugh, while Shirley is quiet, reserved and prefers the finer things in life and can afford them. They start to see each other’s perspective---Tony has had to fight his way through life while Don Shirley had talent to pave the way for him.  Acting is well done, with Viggo Mortensen inhabiting the role of Tony who can stare a man down and bluff his way through life, hence “the lip” moniker. Don Shirley, on the other hand, is mannerly, never eats with his fingers, and always dressed well. In a small role, Linda Cardenelli as Delores, shows us home life with Tony and her decision to let him make this long road trip.. The rest of the cast have their moments from city to city in various situations. 

I attended a Don Shirley and Trio concert when “Water Boy” was popular. Shirley did not mingle after the concert, but his two musicians, did. The auditorium was packed and Shirley’s piano work was excellent. In real life, he did have a long career in performance and composition. “Green Book” is a sample of what African American musicians went through as performers. Welcome on stage, but not in restaurants or hotels except what you find in a Green Book. By the way, one of the script writers, Nick Vallelonga, is the son of Tony Vallelonga. 


Copyright 2019 Marie Asner