“Green Book” rolls into theaters just in time for the Holiday Season

Promotional poster for the Green Book.

Promotional poster for the “Green Book.”

Xavier Rhone, Reporter / Social Media Coordinator

The historically-inspired dramatic comedy “Green Book” tells the story of an African-American pianist, Dr. Don Shirley, on a concert tour of the Jim Crow era Deep South. Shirley enlists the help of slick-talking Italian nightclub bouncer, Tony Lip, for protection on his tour. As the two polar opposites embark on their comedic journey, they develop a life-long friendship.

The title of the film come from “green books,” which served as hotel and travel guides for African-Americans traveling through the Jim Crow south. Throughout the film, the guide demonstrates the disparity in treatment between African-Americans and whites, enriching the comedy with a touch of serious visual storytelling. The juxtaposition of treatment between Tony and Shirley as they tour the South perfectly portrays the state of race relations without being too overt or on the nose.

The cast is helmed by Academy Award nominees Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali as Tony “Lip” Vallelonga and Dr. Don Shirley respectively. Facing the daunting task of realistically portraying the racial divisions of the United States in the 1960s, director Peter Farrelly interspersed moments of brevity and humor to lighten the film. He handles this with great nuance, making the state of race relations quite clear, without being repetitive.

Mortensen reflected on some of the comedic elements in the film during a recent Collider interview, saying “I started reading the script, and I was like, ‘Oh yeah, it’s kind of a drama really with some funny stuff in it.’ Although I have to say, it was funnier the way it turned out.” Mortensen believes the humor was a natural product of his chemistry with co-star Ali.

A shining example of this example comes with the first letter that Dr. Shirley and Tony write for Tony’s wife Dolores. The letters are a recurring activity throughout the movie, with each letter highlighting the growth in the relationship between the two. The dichotomy of Shirley’s elegant demeanor and Vallelonga’s fast-paced slick talking work together in perfect harmony, to create this humorous dynamic that only grows throughout the movie. Seeing the metamorphosis of Tony’s juvenile, fourth grade-level letters into these collaborated letters that ooze genuine, romantic thoughts on the ideas of love helps to produce some of the best character moments in the whole film.

“Just the rhythm that we got into together, and the way we listened to each other – it’s like the reactions from him, and then my reaction to him, like, the incomprehensible oil and water dynamic, and that really helped make it laugh-out-loud funny sometimes,” Mortensen said.

The real life friendship between Dr. Shirley and Vallelonga would endure far past their eight-week companionship, and the two would grow to be friends for the better part of the 50 years. Vallelonga would go on to a successful acting career, until his death in January 2013. Dr. Shirley would continue his music career for the rest of his life, passing away shortly after Vallelonga in April 2013.

At its release, the film received rave reviews, boasting an impressive 83% critics score and a 95% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. With such a strong critical reception, the film is surely in the hunt for multiple accolades as award season draws near.