‘Green Book’: A road trip to remember

Ria Pai and Micaela Wong

Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen), left, drives Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) on his musical tour through the south. “Green Book” is nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Screenplay and Best Film Editing. Photo: Universal Pictures

“So if I’m not black enough, and if I’m not white enough, and if I’m not man enough, then tell me, Tony, what am I?”

“Green Book,” nominated for five Oscar categories, explores this piercing question. The comedy and drama, which is based on a true story, follows world-class black pianist Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) and his newly hired white driver and bodyguard, Tony Vallelonga, also known as Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen), as they embark on Shirley’s concert tour of the Deep South in 1962.

The film is already critically acclaimed, winning three Golden Globes this year, including Screenplay of a Motion Picture, Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture and Musical or Comedy Motion Picture.

Toward the beginning of the movie, Tony Lip is given a Green Book: a travel guide showing accommodations where African Americans were welcome and where they would likely face Jim Crow racism. With segregation heavily present, both Shirley and Lip must navigate the racism and harassment that plagues Shirley, even as he is a wealthy, talented performer, as well as the differences between themselves in racially divided world.

Ali masterfully plays the role of  Shirley: a piano genius, cultured gentleman, and the epitome of grace and class. A highly educated man, Shirley holds doctorates in music, liturgical arts and psychology. Mortensen hilariously portrays Ali’s opposite as Lip, an aggressive, food-loving Italian from the Bronx, with a vocabulary littered with dirty language. Throughout the film, the clashing of their personalities evoke hearty laughs, while their growing understanding of each other and the horrid depictions of violent discrimination may bring viewers to tears. Both actors are wildly deserving of winning an Oscar in their respective categories.

Peter Farrelly, the director and co-screenwriter of the film, beautifully directs this movie, portraying the blatant injustice against African Americans with much depth. The scenes depicting the car trip conversations between Shirley and Lip could easily be dry or long-winded, but Farrelly cleverly creates these to have the opposite effect. Excellent comedic timing woven into the script, along with the cinematography, which mixes shots of the winding countryside they are driving through with unique angles of the actors inside the car, makes these scenes some of the most meaningful in the entire film.

The true musical genius behind the piano is composer Kris Bowers, who adopts Shirley’s style as his scores are heard throughout the movie.

The characters’ personalities are well-portrayed through their costumes, created by costume designer Betsy Heimann. From his cream-colored robe to his collection of suits, Shirley’s attire shows that in the face of heavy racism in the Jim Crow south, he continues to maintain his elegance. On the other hand, Lip wears tight shirts and sportswear to highlight his build and tough personality. 

Although the movie is worthy of its Oscar nominations, it is reportedly less likely to win many awards due to the many controversies surrounding members of the cast and crew, including Farrelly, Mortensen and co-writer Nick Vallelonga, who is the son of the real-life Tony Lip. According to the Guardian, Farrelly made multiple sexual jokes during the 1990s and Vallelonga supported President Donald Trump’s tweet in 2015 about Muslims cheering after the World Trade Center was destroyed. Also, according to Time Magazine, the family of Don Shirley has been critical of the film’s portrayal of the friendship between the two men and its depiction of Shirley as isolated from the African American community. 

Regardless, this film deserves to be seen. From the beautiful portrayal of the relationship between Shirley and Lip to the masterful pieces by Bowers, “Green Book” reveals a deep message about just how terrible racism and segregation was in America in a film which will not soon be forgotten. 

“Green Book”

2 hour, 10 minutes

PG-13 for thematic content, language including racial epithets, smoking, some violence and suggestive material

Directed by Peter Farrelly

Starring Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, and Linda Cardellini