Warm and fuzzy, that’s how I felt exiting the theatre after seeing Green Book. This film is a beautiful piece of story-telling that takes a hard look at the racism of the Jim Crow South, through a very personal relationship between two friends.
Based on the true story of African-American concert pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), Green Book follows his concert tour deep into the American South. With him for the entire journey is Tony “Lip” Vallelonga an Italian-American played by Viggo Mortensen. The two very different men form an unlikely bond as they travel, becoming each other’s greatest ally in the face of great diversity. Now if you’re wondering why on earth it’s called Green Book, it’s quite a sad reality. Just before the two depart for the tour, the record studio gives Tony is given a copy of the “Green Book”: a guide for black travellers in the South to find restaurants, motels etc. that will serve African-Americans.
Viggo Mortensen’s performance as Tony Lip is astounding. Until seeing this film I couldn’t separate Viggo from his iconic role as Aragorn in Lord of the Rings. Whenever I saw one I saw the other, but Viggo completely transformed for the role, packing on quite a few pounds in the process. Let’s just say if Aragorn had the gut of Tony Lip, he certainly wouldn’t have tracked the hobbits through Middle Earth so quickly. Mortensen should be praised for his astounding skills as an actor and there’s no surprise he was nominated for Best Performance at this year’s Golden Globes. In fact as a testament to Green Book‘s greatness it took home 3 of the 5 Globes it was nominated for.
So for all intents and purposes Green Book is a great film and well worth a watch, however there is a catch. Those warm and fuzzy feelings I had seemingly came at a cost, the truth of the actual story. We all know the line “based on true events” and we all know that line can be used pretty liberally. Since its release, Green Book has received quite a bit of backlash, in particular from Don Shirley’s family. They called the film “symphony of lies”, stating that Don Shirley only ever had an employer/employee relationship and the film inaccurately represented Don Shirley as isolated from his family and from the African-American community.
This has certainly put a damper on the film for me, the idea that the story presented has been tampered with and tweaked in order to tug on the heart strings has tainted the power of the film. Green Book’s greatness is found in its influential story of deep friendship between two men who are very different, overcoming discrimination and hate through care for one another. But when I learnt that the feel good film was concocted to make me feel that way, my warm and fuzzy feelings seem more like a fantasy than a reality, and that sucks.
– Joshua Baty