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MOVIE REVIEW

Green Book

also known as “Green Book - Eine besondere Freundschaft,” “Green Book - O Guia,” “Green Book - Um Guia Para a Vida,” “Roheline raamat,” “Zöld könyv,” «Зелёная книга»
MPAA Rating: PG-13-Rating (MPAA) for thematic content, language including racial epithets, smoking, some violence and suggestive material.

Reviewed by: Samiatu Dosunmu
CONTRIBUTOR

Offensive
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
• Adults • Young-Adults • Mature Teens
Genre:
Biography Comedy Drama
Length:
2 hr. 10 min.
Year of Release:
2018
USA Release:
September 11, 2018 (festival)
November 16, 2018 (select—25 theaters)
November 21, 2018 (wide—1,063 theaters)
DVD: March 5, 2019
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Relevant Issues
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Feeling out of place, isolated and lonely in both white and black communities

Human need for love and friendship

What is Christian LOVE? Answer

The importance of empathy

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History of racial segregation

Wise ways to deal with discrimination, prejudice and the ugliness of bigotry

RACISM—What are the consequences of racial prejudice and false beliefs about the origin of races? Answer

Racism, Racial Issues and Christianity
Get biblical answers to racial hot-topics. Where did the races come from? How did skin color come about? Why is it important to have a biblical foundation for such issues?

Copyright, Universal Pictures

Racial STEREOTYPING

Dealing with personal and unjust humiliation

Dealing with barriers encountered in life in a wise and productive way

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Developing genuine EMPATHY for the problems, struggles and suffering of others

Treating others with RESPECT

DEFENDING people who are being treated unfairly

The importance of MORAL INTEGRITY

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Genuinely befriending and respecting someone of another race or education level or social class

Moving outside of your comfort zone

Moving from mutual antagonism and transcending to deep friendship

Copyright, Universal Pictures
Films with a similar theme, but different approach

Movie review: “Catch a Fire” (2006)

Movie review: “From One Blood: The Story of Gerrit Wolfaardt” (2003)

Movie review: “In My Country” (2005)

Featuring: Mahershala AliDon Shirley
Viggo MortensenFrank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga
Linda CardelliniDolores Vallelonga
Iqbal Theba … Amit
Dimiter D. Marinov … Oleg
Mike Hatton … George Dyer
P.J. ByrneRecord Producer
Don Stark … Jules Podell
Sebastian Maniscalco … Johnny Venere
Jenna Laurenzo … Fran Venere
Nick Vallelonga … Augie
Brian Stepanek … Graham Kindell
See all »
Director: Peter Farrelly—“Dumb and Dumber To” (2014), “The Three Stooges” (2012), “Hall Pass” (2011), “The Heartbreak Kid” (2007), “Me, Myself and Irene” (2000)
Producer: Participant Media
DreamWorks
See all »
Distributor: Distributor: Universal Pictures. Trademark logo.
Universal Pictures

“Inspired by a true friendship”

“Green Book” is based on a true-life friendship between Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen), a white Italian bouncer, and Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), an African-American psychologist and pianist. Both men meet when an unemployed Tony responds to an advertisement stating that a doctor is looking for a chauffeur. Their first encounter is strained, as Tony’s flippant, uncultured behavior clashes with Don’s sophisticated, reserved demeanor. Tony is also shocked to see that Dr. Shirley is African-American. However, Dr. Shirley eventually hires Tony on the strength of others’ word, as he needs someone who can help him stay out of trouble during an eight-week concert tour through the Deep South. Tony is given a copy of the Green Book… by Don’s record studio executive (P.J. Byrne), a guide for black travelers to find safe havens throughout the South.

The men maintain a distant interaction at first. As they travel farther south, Tony and Dr. Shirley clash over their differences. Tony feels uncomfortable being asked to act prim and proper, while Dr. Shirley is disgusted by Tony’s casual lifestyle. However, Tony is impressed by Dr. Shirley’s piano talent, but is appalled by the poor treatment he receives once his performances are over. One night at a bar, a group of white men threaten Dr. Shirley’s life. Tony rescues him by threatening to pull a gun on them. He then instructs Dr. Shirley not to leave his sight for the rest of the tour. In an effort to encourage Tony to express his emotions, Dr. Shirley helps him pen poems in the form of letters to his wife. Tony encourages Dr. Shirley to tap into his fun side by introducing him to fried chicken.

On the night of the tour’s final performance in Birmingham, Alabama, Dr. Shirley is refused entry into the whites-only dining establishment. After a tense stand-off, with Tony threatening the owners, Dr. Shirley refuses to play the final show in retribution. Instead, he and Tony head to a predominantly African-American jazz club where Don plays crowd-pleasing music to everyone’s delight.

They decide to head back to New York in time for Christmas. Tony invites Dr. Shirley to spend Christmas with him and his family. Initially, Dr. Shirley refuses, thanks Tony for his services, and drives away. However, he changes his mind and shows up at Tony’s apartment, where they welcome him in.

Spiritual Issues

Racism

Scripture states that there is only one race: human. “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). Caucasians, Africans, Asians, Indians, Arabs, and Jews are not different races. Rather, they are different ethnicities of the human race. God shows no distinction, and neither should we. At first, Tony is blinded by his ignorance. He tries to bond with Dr. Shirley by expressing his knowledge of African-American singers and cannot understand why Dr. Shirley does not like fried chicken or why he isn’t familiar with such performers. His expression of these stereotypes creates tension between both men.

“For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.” —Deuteronomy 10:17

Tony finally begins to understand racism when a salesman refuses to let Dr. Shirley try on a suit because the store does not serve African-Americans.

Despite the restraints of the Jim Crow laws (enforced racial segregation), Dr. Shirley is determined to be respected and treated with dignity. However, underneath his poised and conservative demeanor lies bitterness. One example is when the police catch Dr. Shirley skinny-dipping in a public pool with an unidentified white man at night. The officers hand cuff the men. Appalled, Tony requests that the officers cover the men with a towel. He then bribes the officers so that Dr. Shirley and the unknown man are not arrested. Later, Dr. Shirley expresses discontent because he felt he did not deserve to be treated that way and because he felt that the bribe rewarded the officers for their condescending behavior. Discrimination is hard to endure. Victims of racism, prejudice, and discrimination need to forgive in order be restored.

“Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” —Ephesians 4:32

RACISM—What are the consequences of racial prejudice and false beliefs about the origin of races? Answer

Racism, Racial Issues and Christianity
Get biblical answers to racial hot-topics. Where did the races come from? How did skin color come about? Why is it important to have a biblical foundation for such issues?

What is Christian LOVE? Answer

Anxiety

Dorothy Dandridge, an African-American actress and singer during the segregation era, said that although she loved performing, she hated having to abide by the Jim Crow laws once she finished performances. Abiding by those laws, and the fear of harassment and its reprisals created a lot of anxiety among people of different ethnicities.

FEAR, Anxiety and Worry—What does the Bible say? Answer

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” —Philippians 4:6

In Tim Tebow’s This Is the Day, he writes:

“When we numb on anything, we cannot see the joy, hope, and light that exists, even when life is hard.”

Both men are arrested after a cop pulls them over late at night and Tony punches him in the face. After their release, Tony is grateful, but a visibly upset Dr. Shirley feels embarrassed for having made a call to his friend U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy to get them out. Both men begin to discuss the fact that while they may share commonalities, their worlds are different. Tony expresses how he is a hard-working blue collared man while Dr. Shirley prefers to remain cooped up in his lavish apartment above Carnegie Hall. Dr. Shirley breaks down and expresses that he is lonely and feels out of place.

“I play for white people because it makes them feel cultured. But once my performances are over, I am just another nigger to them, because that is their true culture. And I stay alone because I am not accepted by my own people, because I am not like them either. So, if I am not black, white, or good enough, then tell me Tony, what am I?”

In This Is the Day, Tebow continues, “…numbing can prevent us from seeing the truth in our lives or hinder us from allowing the incredible things God can do through us.”

During the final performance, Dr. Shirley’s band mate, Oleg (Dimeter Marinov), explains to Tony why Dr. Shirley chose to embark on the tour stating, “Genius is not enough. It takes courage to change people’s hearts.”

Moviemaking Quality

I thought the movie was generally fun to watch. Writers Nick Vallelonga (son of Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga), Brian Hayes Currie, and Peter Farrelly took heavy subject matter and added in well-placed humor. The script is witty yet emotional. As a contributor, I left feeling empowered and uplifted. The film won the Toronto International Film Festival’s Grolsch People’s Choice Award.

Historical Facts

Negro Motorist Green Book 1940 edition
1940 edition of the Green Book which lists black-owned businesses and other places where blacks were welcome guests on the basis of “cash rather than color.” And “the wide circulation of the Green Book had attracted growing interest from white businesses that wanted to tap into the potential sales of the black market.” A user of the time, named William Smith praised it, saying, “It is a book badly needed among our Race since the advent of the motor age. Realizing the only way we knew where and how to reach our pleasure resorts was in a way of speaking, by word of mouth, until the publication of The Negro Motorist Green Book.”
The Travelers Green Book Guide for Travel & Vacations
1960 edition

Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga and Don Shirley remained life long friends until their deaths in 2013.

The movie gets its title from The Negro Motorist Green Book written by Victor Hugo Green.

Content of concern

  • Profane language: Heavy— • “J*sus Chr*st” (2) • “Christ” • “for Christ’s sakes” • “J*sus” (2) • “G*d-d*mn” (12+) • “swear to G*d” • “honest to G*d” • “H*ll” (7) • “d*mn” (2)
  • Vulgar/Crude language: Heavy— • f-words (2) • “pr*cks” (2) • “N*gger” (many times) • “N*gger-lover” • “Coon” • “king of the jungle bunnies” • “Guineas” • “Eggplant” (In this context, Italians used that term to refer to African-American in a derogatory fashion.) • “fat Jew b*stard” • “Cuban b*stards” • “that dago wop” • “Chink” • “Krauts” • “sh*t” (24) • “cr*p” • a**hole (2) • “a**” (10), including “piece of a**” and “Your mother's a**” • “huge t*ts” (3) • Reference to Pittsburgh as “Tittsburgh” (2) • “balls” (2) • “son of a b*tch” • “b*stard” • “p*ss” (3) • “Gotta take a leak”
  • Sex: Moderately Heavy— • sexual comments • kisses of married couple • It is insinuated that Dr. Don Shirley may have been bisexual. However, aside from a skinny-dipping scene which implies a homosexual encounter, this subject is never revisited.
  • Violence: Mild to Moderate— • bar brawls
  • Nudity: Mild— Dr. Shirley and a white man sit apparently naked on a YMCA floor (not explicit)
  • Occult: None
Editor’s Note: It is interesting to note that some of Don Shirley’s family view this film somewhat differently. According to a Georgia reporter, “Carol Shirley Kimble, the late doctor’s niece…blasted the film and said it makes [Tony] Lip the hero, as opposed to her uncle who was incredibly ahead of his time” (Daryl Nelson, “‘Green Book’ Makes the White Man the Hero Says Family of the Film’s Star Dr. Don Shirley,” Atlanta Black Star, November 24, 2018).

As of this date, Don Shirley’s younger brother Maurice Shirley (86) refuses to watch the movie, because he says it is “full of lies.”

In a message to NPR broadcast on their 1A program, Carol Shirley Kimble recently stated:

“There was no due diligence done to afford my family and my deceased uncle the respect of properly representing him, his legacy, his worth and the excellence in which he operated and the excellence in which he lived. … It’s once again a depiction of a white man’s version of a Black man’s life. My uncle was an incredibly proud man and an incredibly accomplished man, as are the majority of people in my family. And to depict him as less than and to depict him and take away from him and make the story about a hero of a white man for this incredibly accomplished Black man is insulting at best.”

Star Viggo Mortensen defended the film in a Variety interview:

“[Writer] Nick Vallelonga has shown admirable restraint in the face of some accusations and some claims—including from a couple of family members—that have been unjustified, uncorroborated and basically unfair, that have been countered by other people who knew Doc Shirley well. There is evidence that there was not the connection that [the family members] claimed there was with him, and perhaps there’s some resentment.” —Article: “Green Book’ Star Viggo Mortensen Says Backlash From Shirley Family Is ‘Unjustified’” by Nate Nickolai, Variety

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.


Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Positive
Positive—We found the movie to be very entertaining. I was sadden to hear that Don Shirley’s family was not very pleased with the movie, but was also glad that they are speaking up; remanding us that this is not a documentary but a tall-tale weaved from bits of truth intertwined with fiction with the goal of entertainment and not education. At least I hope that is the goal. On the upside, I knew nothing of this great man before this movie and was inspired to do some reading on him. I hope others also realize this is not the real Don Shirley story and look for the facts elsewhere.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4½
M.G., age 56 (USA)
Positive—Thoroughly enjoyed this movie! It was interesting to watch the unlikely friendship grow between two men who are so completely different in personality, background, skills and education. As events unfold during the course of the road trip, they face the challenges of discrimination and prejudice together, yet in separate ways since one is the subject of the prejudice and the other is discovering its ugliness. Their friendship grows as the result of these experiences and both men gain a deeper understanding of each other.

Viggo Mortensen was a joy to watch as the tough, yet lovable Italian, Tony ‘Lip’ Vallelonga from Bronx, New York. He fully embodied the role and was believable in his transition to truly caring about his boss Dr. Shirley.

Mahershala Ali was excellent as the sophisticated concert pianist, Dr. Don Shirley, showing multiple facets to his character along with the underlying hurt, rage and indignity of living with racism. Their performances held my attention and made me care about the characters they portrayed.

The interspersed humor and music contributed to rounding out the story, while the retro backdrop with vintage cars and locations was fun to see on the big screen. Especially liked the scene near the end in the Orange Bird Café.

Take away message for me was that being open to a friendship with someone very different than we are helps us grow beyond ourselves by seeing the world in a new light. This ultimately gives us greater compassion and understanding of our fellow human beings, broadens our outlook and enriches our lives. A confirmation of what I’ve experienced in my own life.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 4½
Stephanie C., age 58 (USA)
Positive—What a great great film I’ve seen it twice. Absolutely brilliant, it hard to think in the sixties that was still going on. What great acting; I really do believe it’s one of the best.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 5
Ginabates, age 74 (United Kingdom)
Positive—I watched enjoyed and cried in very different points of the movie. The movie portrayed sessions that I as a young man saw in New York at the age of 7. I have also witnessed the most important thing shared in that movie, which are biblical and real. Don’t judge, lest ye be Judged and never attack or hate, but always love, even if you are not loved, because love will come. It is biblical, educational and the story of Jesus Christ, as I know it and love it. I am experiencing issues in my current life, as a leader, where appreciate others that you lead and place them ahead of me so that they too can share in what I receive. Don Shirley showed that in this movie, and it not only was educational in story, but the truth of actions in life, were shared. Sometimes even the best of leaders, make mistakes, but knowing, asking for forgiveness, and always loving others and sharing the best of the worst.

Regardless of how difficult it can be is the best solution to a greater life. It is wonderful to hear that this story was based on a true story during a period, when everyone had their own belief, and did not feel that being punitive or prejudice against another, was wrong. I cried at the end, because His spirit like Tony’s was always doing what is best regardless of what would be better. The movie did show his roles more as a defender and stepping in front of the Master, in order to defend and protect, but the movie also shows that slowly, he understands what Don Shirley’s role and intent was really towards a greater achievement of peace, love and prosperity for all, not just for one’s self. See all »
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
Rene, age 55 (USA)
Positive—This is an excellently acted film, based on the actual relationship between Italian American bouncer Tony and African American musician Don Shirley traveling together during the last days of the legally segregated South. They grow together, overcome stereotypes, get in a few licks against the segregationist culture, and eventually become lifetime friends. There is a mix of uplift and humor that leaves most of the audience feeling good.

So what’s not to like? Most criticisms of the film are really about the racial situation now, which is of course more conflicted than this feel good film about then lets on. Do movies about black people really need to be mostly about the white person who interacts with them? The actor who played Shirley got an Academy Award for best supporting actor, doing an exquisite job of showing extreme talent, dignity and culture (isn’t he exactly what his niece says he was supposed to be?). Is he really supporting the actor who plays Tony or are they equals? Certainly Tony grows and leaves his racism behind. Shirley grows as well. However, when he is alone at Christmas, instead of calling his estranged brother, he comes to visit Tony’s family and is welcomed in. See all »
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4½
Stanley Hirtle, age 74 (USA)

PLEASE share your observations and insights to be posted here.

Secular Movie Critics
…“Green Book” is a thoroughly predictable and conventional true-life drama, but at least Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali make for decent company along the road. …
Tim Grierson, Screen Daily
…With “Green Book,” a Farrelly brother is here to make you laugh, cry, and feel better about racism… it flatters the delusion that racism, in its ugliest form, is more of a past-tense problem… At times, “Green Book” plays uncomfortably like a white-savior movie disguised as a slob-versus-snob comedy. …
A.A. Dowd, The A.V. Club
…There’s not much here you haven’t seen before, and very little that can’t be described as crude, obvious and borderline offensive, even as it tries to be uplifting and affirmative. And yet! …
A.O. Scott, The New York Times
…Two terrific performances and the interplay between the two actors—Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen—are the reasons to see “Green Book.” Their pas de deux is a master class in acting, and the twosome’s give and take provides good company for the road trip that comprises the heart of this narrative. …
Marjorie Baumgarten, The Austin Chronicle
…the leads mostly are saddled with literal, middle-of-the-road material. …
Craig D. Lindsey, L.A. Weekly
…In a world that seems to get uglier every day, this movie’s gentle heart and mere humanity feel like a salve. …
Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly
…Farrelly’s film is worth witnessing, especially given how it is now all but destined to dominate the awards conversation. But do yourself a favour: Each time your fellow moviegoers burst into applause, ask just who it is they’re clapping for. …
Barry Hertz, The Globe and Mail (Toronto)
…An enjoyable odd couple in the Jim Crow South… a lively and likable diversion…
Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter
…Peter Farrelly manages to respect the severity of the characters’ social context while ensuring that “Green Book” never steps outside its protagonists’ relationship, a delicate balancing act that credibly makes a feel-good, effervescent comedy out of its thorny subject matter without ever sanitizing it. …
Jake Coyle, Slant Magazine
…one of the best and most memorable films in a decade…
Rex Reed, The New York Observer