By RANDAL C. HILL
In 1936 an African American postal worker named Victor Hugo Green published his first annual The Negro Motorist Green Book. A handbook essential to black motorists as they made their way through the pre-Civil Rights South, it featured listings of non-discriminating southern businesses.
It is Green’s guide that provides the title of the Thanksgiving released Green Book, an endearing, must-see actor’s showcase that has Oscar clearly written all over it.
Green Book is based on the true-life story of a 1962 road trip involving Dr. Don Shirley (Academy Award winner Mahershala Ali), a world-renowned jazz musician who held three doctorate degrees and spoke eight languages, and a brutal, street-hardened Bronx
nightclub bouncer, Tony “Lip” Vallelonga (Academy Award nominee Viggo Mortensen).
“Green Book was a project that I kept thinking about after I had read it,” says Ali. “If you look at these two archetypes [in films], it’s so often the black guy [who] is serving as some sort of grounding force and reality check, who’s coming from a low-income or working-class environment, for the wealthier, more affluent character…I really responded to the fact that it was flipped on its head the way it was and the fact that it was based on a real relationship.”
The story is a sort of Driving Miss Daisy in reverse. When Shirley accepts several gigs in the Jim Crow South, he hires the two-fisted Lip as a chauffeur/bodyguard for the tour. Lip, who has never ventured beyond his Big Apple world, eventually witnesses Shirley’s race-fueled run-ins with everyone from barroom thugs to the hypocritical high-society elite who engage his musical services.
As the story unfolds, this odd couple comes to understand each other’s world.
Green Book also includes Linda Cardellini, pitchperfect as Tony’s wife, Dolores.
Peter Farrelly produced the future classic, and the script was written by Farrelly, Brian Hayes Currie and Nick Vallelonga, the real-life son of Tony “Lip” Vallelonga.
If the name Farrelly rings a bell, it’s probably because Peter and brother Bobby were responsible for producing sophomoric fare such as There’s Something About Mary and Dumb and Dumber. Peter offers Green Book as a quality counterpoint to those past offerings.
When Green published his first handbook, he stated in his introduction: “There will be a day sometime in the near future when this guide will not have to be published.” It’s a sad commentary that 29 more such books had to be issued before this became a reality.