Movie Review: ‘Green Book’

“Green Book” follows two men, Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) and Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali). Lip is a lively Italian American, who is looking for employment. Lip’s communal connections get him an interview with Dr. Shirley, a popular African American musician. Shirley wants a driver who can get him to each concert location. Sounds simple, right? Well, the tour is set in the Deep South. Shirley hires Lip, and the two men begin their journey. Along the way, the duo encounters humanistic hatred, but most importantly, they form a beautiful bond. To start, I will say that “Green Book” is a great film. The film is a bit overlong (there are a few elongated sequences here and there), but its power cannot be reduced.

Right away, the main characters are portrayed as being flawed. Director Peter Farrelly wisely establishes the broken nature of each character, while also hinting at the fact that everyone (no matter what race) is flawed. By focusing on the character’s flaws, Farrelly successfully sets the foundation for satisfying character arcs. Lip, a fun, high spirited family man, has a hot temper. And as a result, he often uses violence to fix his problems. Also, Lip is somewhat prejudiced towards African Americans. In an early scene, two African American repairmen use Lip’s glasses. After the repairmen leave, Lip puts the glasses in the garbage.

Dr. Shirley is a highly intellectual man. He has heart and knowledge. Most importantly, he wants to make a difference. Yes, these are great qualities, but the character is very snobby. He speaks with minimal emotion. And oftentimes, he cuts interpersonal conversations short. In general, Dr. Shirley has a hollow personality, full of impatience, predictability, and dullness. Dr. Shirley has unprecedented music skills, but he fails to live life to the fullest.

As the characters get deeper and deeper into the south, situations get worse. Dr. Shirley is treated with great disgust. At times, the demented interpersonal acts turn into physical abuse. These dark, racist acts are sprinkled throughout the running time to give the film a sense of legitimacy. 

Certain films gloss over the evils of society, but “Green Book” embraces the civil rights era. These moments, while horrid in nature, set the stakes.

By embracing the dark aspects of the 1960s era, the positive moments are even more effective. We watch these characters go through unfair circumstances. Both men slowly become better versions of themselves. They are proven to be exceptional men, a far cry from racially corrupt civilians. Many of the confrontations develop the characters. Each man experiences injustice and their bond expands. Many of these confrontations provide life lessons for the characters, setting off a chain of humanistic evolution. Thus, whenever the characters experience forms of happiness, the positive aspects feel earned. As audience members, we get a chance to breathe. Most importantly, we get a chance to smile.

It is clear that Farrelly wanted “Green Book” to be a consistently funny film. Farrelly doesn’t want to depress us. Instead, he wants to inspire us. In times of great hostility, Farrelly wants to spread hope amongst the masses. I have to give credit to the screenwriters (Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie, and Peter Farrelly). They do a wonderful job of utilizing comedic elements. It’s a rare case where none of the jokes feel forced or unearned.

The characters backgrounds/personalities are foreign to the other, so the screenwriters take advantage of the comedic potential. In a clever turn of events, the writers use comedy to explore the character’s monumentally different backgrounds/personalities. After all, Lip comes from a gritty Italian American community, tied to high, unfiltered volumes of interpersonal communication. Dr. Shirley, on the other hand, comes from a very educated background, disconnected from humanistic interaction. Thus, they are completely different human beings. Lip is a blunt, carefree man, filled with flawed pride. Dr. Shirley is a soft spoken individual, full of reason and patience. In a world where hostile beings pit one against the other, this film tells us that we can choose to talk about our differences in a warm manner.

Most importantly, this great film is about two men (of different races) coming together. Dr. Shirley makes Lip a better man. Lip’s crude manners become improved. He finds that violence is not always the answer. As a whole, he becomes a calmer man, connected to reasoning and understanding. And most notably, Lip becomes a better person by overcoming his prejudiced nature. Dr. Shirley, on the other hand, becomes a warmer individual. Lip helps Dr. Shirley enjoy the little things in life. Lip’s assertive attitude also makes Dr. Shirley stand up for himself. Best of all, Dr. Shirley leaves the comfy confines of his lonely palace and seeks out human connection. Like Lip, Dr. Shirley improves himself.

Like Lip and Dr. Shirley, we (real life citizens) have to navigate through immorality. The duo’s friendship represents the bonding of race. Today, I see many instances of racial separation. I see many people siding with their own race. Instead, we should side with righteous beings. If we want change, we should lock hands with those who want equality, peace, and love. For objective human beings, race should be unimportant. All that matters is peace and objectivity. Lipp’s and Shirley’s bond is a reminder that love transcends the evils of the world. Evil can be monumentally thick, but true love can create brighter times.

I highly recommend “Green Book.” In today’s controversial climate, we need more stories that deal with race relations. America has a dark history when it comes to race relations. And today, racist acts continue. Similar to films like “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Green Mile,” this film reminds us that beautiful souls exist. Yes, there is a lot of hate within the United States. But at the same time, our country has a lot of great citizens, full of warmth, compassion, and objectivity. Ladies and gentlemen, watch this film in theaters while you still can. You will be moved.

My Grade: A  (Note: This fim is now available on home video. Also, it is playing in Tri-State theaters.)

Dillon McCarty can be contacted at [email protected]