“Cinema Stephanie” Blogette Vol. III, No.2 (Jan. 2019)
(U.S.A., Participant Media, 130 min, PG 13.; Dir. by Peter Farrelly
(Viewed in 2018 & second time Jan. 22, 2019)
Green Book is a different twist on the “buddy” or road trip movies with the juxtaposition of earthy to swank Italian “dago” Larry Lip(Viggo Mortensen) from the Bronx, NY in tandem with elegant, if not effete, African-American virtuoso musician Dr. Don Shirley(Mahershala Ali) who resides above Carnegie Hall, New York City. With the former as subservient (well almost) and the latter the man (seemingly) in charge.
Based on true story of the relationship of Tony Vallelonga and acclaimed pianist Dr. Shirley, Tony finds himself on hiatus when the Big Apple’s celebrated Copacobana night club where he’s been working in “public relations” (as in muscleman “bouncer”) is being remodeled. Recruited by the punctilious performer to be his driver cum protector, “not a butler”, Tony initially seems rather brash to his new employer though eventually endears himself, and vice versa. It’s 1962 and the unlikely duo embark on a two month road tour “gig” when The Don Shirley Trio was booked to play public and private venues, posh to mundane, from Ohio to the deep south including New Orleans.
Together they forge on against the enmity of the many southerners still steeped in Jim Crow rules and mentality. A time to appropriately disdain yet cannot be denied. With the “Green Book” in hand that outlined the rules for travel for blacks and whites this unlikely pair navigate through the heartland with caution about who’s accepted where. That’s the way it was before the Civil Rights bill was signed in 1964. Thankfully conditions have improved though there continues to always be a need to ameliorate prejudice, as a compelling scene at a “colored only” motel depicts leading to Dr. Shirley venture into dangerous circumstances to avoid ridicule by some of his own background. Tony takes on the authority of protector with gusto as Dr. Shirley naively, and somewhat arrogantly, put himself in personal jeopardy more than once with Tony Lip to the rescue.
Be aware there’s some strong (profane) language and fist fighting that’s intrinsic to the story, not gratuitous, so it’s tolerable with that understanding. The underlying romance and family bond with Tony and his wife Dolores(Linda Cardellini) is quite sweet and subtlety influenced by a touch of Cyrano deBergerac from Dr. Shirley.
Seeing the film a second time, and appropriately on Martin Luther King Day, revealed more of the humor, pathos and historical context Listen carefully to not miss the nuances of the dialogue. The detailed art direction, production values, and high caliber of the (main) actors garnering well deserved accolades and award nominations is truly worthy.
What these two men, who couldn’t be more opposite, unknowingly teach and learn from and about each other is an epiphany of empathy and humanity.
(professional affiliation, does not reflect personal viewpoint expressed)
Stephanie Mardesich, Director & Founder LA Harbor International Film Festival (LAHIFF) Telephone (310) 519-0756 "To create a cinematic bridge between the people of the region and the people of the world."
“Save the Date” for 16thannual LAHIFF
Mar. 14-17, 2019
Programming announced Feb. 13
More at website: www.laharborfilmfest.com