By Ché Zuro
Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali in Green Book
From the get-go, the first screen shot you see, the music you hear, the feeling you get when you first start watching this comedy-drama, you know you are in for something special. This film is fantastic - heartwarming, sad, eloquent, fascinating, funny - all at the same time.
Green Book stars Viggo Mortensen as Tony Lip, a tough New York bouncer, who is hired by Don Shirley, played by Mahershala Ali. Shirley, a world class pianist, needs a driver to take him to and through the 1960s south for an eight week tour. Their unlikely relationship starts out roughly with Tony not wanting to do all of the jobs that Dr. Shirley needs him to do, Shirley correcting Tony's grammar, and insisting on things being done the proper way. Things begins to change when Tony sees how Don is treated as a black man in the racist south. Even with Tony's slight racial prejudices, the southern way is uncomfortable for him and makes him become fiercely protective of Dr. Shirley.
Before they leave, the record company people have given Tony a book, "The Green Book,' which is a guide for black travelers in the South. This was a guide citing restaurants, motels and other safe places in an area where there were still "White Only" signs as well as "Sundown Towns." (The latter being where any non-white person was discriminated against in horrific ways.)
Tony has to help Dr. Shirley get to all of his performances - ironically with all white audiences. Traveling from place to place and seeing just how disgusting people were toward someone from another race, was gut wrenching. Seeing Don Shirley's enthusiastic audience treating him like a king, yet not allowing him to use the restroom at the performance venue or eat in the restaurant where he would shortly be performing, made me physically ill. Knowing that the Green Book was written in order to protect a whole race of people in America was hard to fathom. And realizing that many people we know of in the entertainment business had to endure this makes it even harder to swallow. (For instance, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, Sammy Davis Jr., among others.)
Watching the tough Tony Lip soften with experiences like Don helping him to write beautiful letters to his wife and teaching him more worldly ways of speaking and etiquette makes the heart melt. Watching Tony's ultimate protection of Don allows us to see how Don also changes, melting away some of his facade he has used to guard himself his whole life. You begin to see the similarities of the two characters and less of the differences as the two become more than employer and employee.
This film is an important one for everyone to watch as it is based on a true story about real people. We can learn so much from these two characters, allowing ourselves to accept people who are nothing like us, and learning things about ourselves on that journey.
Highly recommended! One of the best films of the season!