Green Book stars Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, and Linda Cardellini and was directed by Peter Farrelly. It tells the true story of the business relationship turned friendship between driver Frank ìTonyî Vallelonga and pianist Dr. Don Shirley, played by Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali respectively. Green Book was a film that I knew I was gonna enjoy, even after only watching the first trailer. I had never heard of the true story that inspired it, but I was initially drawn to this one cause even just that brief two minute trailer reminded me of another film that I enjoy.
Now, after watching Green Book, I see even more parallels and similarities with that other movie. So what other movie, you ask? Driving Miss Daisy. Now some people might immediately jump on that same comparison for the more obvious reasons: it’s a period piece involving a driver and race relations in the Deep South. Others might be looking to point out the similarities in negative criticism of the films: that they both take an overly simplistic, kinda schmaltzy and sanitized approach to the topic of racism. Although all of these similarities are valid, they aren’t what made me connect the two films in my mind.
That connection was made because both of these films have the same central theme at their core: friendship. Now I’ve seen that many people are frustrated by the way this film deals with racism, saying that it doesn’t accurately depict the true plight that people faced in 1962. And that argument is probably very true, but my counterargument is that racism isn’t really the focus of this movie; merely a contextual vehicle used to explore the friendship between two people who come from very different worlds.
Just like Driving Miss Daisy, Green Book centers on a driving-related business arrangement between a black and a white character. And, in each film, that business relationship eventually evolves into true friendship after the time and experiences the characters share together deepen their understanding of what the other’s life is really like. While Driving Miss Daisy takes a more dramatic approach to this topic, Green Book tackles the character metamorphoses more humorously.
That’s not to say Green Book isn’t without its more serious moments, but the comedy injects a certain amount of levity to keep the film focused on the relationship between Tony and Doc, rather than allowing it to ever get too bogged down by the many disheartening experiences that occur when they’re in the Deep South. Most of this comedy stems from things that Tony says or does, followed by an incredulous response from Doc, but it really worked and never got old for me. The reactionary facial expressions in this film are pretty fantastic.
There were only a few other people in the theater with me when I saw this one, but they were repeatedly cracking up: the ìabsurdityî of Tittsburgh, the recurring fried chicken motif, the whole greasy blankey scene, the letters, and my personal favorite: the conversation about the ìorphanî record. Although the comedy keeps this movie cruising along like a teal Cadillac, the relationship between Tony and Doc is the real highlight of the film. Over the course of their time together, they have more of an impact on one another than either probably could’ve ever anticipated.
Tony’s transformation is the more obvious of the two, but he also has quite an impact on Doc as well, as evidenced by the final twenty or so minutes of the film. At its heart, Green Book is the story of a friendship and the wide-reaching impacts that friendship can have on the lives of those involved. Alright, let’s talk about the pros and cons. Number one on the pro list for me is the story. This is one of those movies that presents a very little known true story involving real individuals in order to bring attention to a larger, real historical concept or issue.
The friendship between these two men, in itself, is a worthwhile story to tell. Bringing attention to Don Shirley and his extraordinary piano skills is also something that’s important I would’ve never known about him had it not been for this movie. But, more importantly, had it not been for this story and the two real people who inspired it, I also would’ve never known about the Green Book. I mean, I knew that the Deep South and other parts of the country were and still are in many cases, terrible when it came to racism and segregation, but I’ve never really thought about it in the context of travelling. Of people coming from other parts of the country, even just passing through, and having to deal with that sort of super-concentrated racism. And so through the story of Tony and Doc, that’s what this movie is informing people of.
Taking its name right from the guidebook ñ The Negro Motorist Green Book ñ that helped people try to stay safe and find places that would even serve them food or let them sleep there this movie really brought to light a frequently overlooked aspect of our country’s past. The second pro is the acting. The pairing of Mortensen and Ali is perfect and their interplay and eventual friendship is definitely the highlight of the movie for me.
They’re certainly both deserving of the recognition they got for these roles. Finally, the third pro is the tone. I know some people would put this in the con list, but I thought the prominent odd-couple comedy was perfect for this story. I know that some critics of the film have knocked it for having too much levity and not focusing on the atrocities of the 60s-era Deep South, but there are other movies out there that focus on that aspect.
True stories about these atrocities like what happened to Emmett Till in 1955, have made their way into cinema with very impactful and visceral films like the Oscar-nominated short film, My Nephew Emmett. There’s definitely a place for films like that, but I think there’s also something to be said about making entertaining movies that touch on serious subjects too. I mean, in general, people like comedy ñ they like to laugh. So a movie that promises that is gonna draw more people to see it. And that levity is gonna make people want to rewatch it too.
So the serious topic might not be 100% accurately depicted, but the basic message is still there and it reaches so many more people than a documentary or brutally-realistic drama ever would. As far as cons go, I don’t have anything major for this one. I guess if I absolutely had to pick something, it would be that some aspects of the road trip felt rushed or not given much time to develop and connect to the rest of the story.
The YMCA sequence kinda stands out for me as an example of this, but I think it’s mostly a consequence of condensing the true events of a two month trip into a two hour movie, so this sort of vignette style didn’t really bother me. Before I give you my rating and recommendations, I want to remind you that if you’re interested in buying Green Book or any of the other films I mention today, I do have affiliate links for all of them in the description below. I get a small commission from anything you buy using one of my links, so I’d really appreciate if you’d use them if you’re in the market for any of these movies.
I’m gonna give Green Book 4.5 out of 5 stars. I really had a great time with this one and thought it was a fantastic and funny look at the development of a friendship between two very different people. I would recommend Green Book to just about anybody. I think it’s got really broad appeal. If you like comedy especially comedy-of-manners, then I think you’ll really enjoy this one. It’s also got a lot of heart and the dramatic moments actually matter, so there’s some depth to the story too if you like your comedy to have a reason to exist. If you liked Green Book, the most obvious film recommendation would be Driving Miss Daisy.
I know I already talked about it a lot, but there are a lot of similarities in the general premise and there are some major parallels between the central friendships in the two movies. If the mismatched-strangers-share-a-car aspect of this movie was your major draw, then I’d also recommend that you check out Planes, Trains, and Automobiles for a very different type of story, but, at times, similar humor. And if you want another recent film that tells a previously untold true story from the 1960s, you should check out Hidden Figures.
Alright, a couple questions for you guys Number one: Have you seen Green Book? If so, what’d you think of it? And number two: What’s your favorite based-on-a-true-story movie that introduced you to a person an event a story, that you would’ve otherwise never known about? Be sure to leave your answers in the comments below so we can get a discussion going.