This is one of my favorite times of year - the lead up to awards season. The three big shows are the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild Awards and the Oscars. This year, the first of the trifecta, the Golden Globes, is especially early, taking place on Sunday, January 6, 2019. Which means, I have just about four weeks to see as many of the nominated films as possible.
The first movie on my must-see list was Green Book, which I saw last weekend at the Somerville Theater. The film is based on the true story of Dr. Don Shirley's 1962 concert tour through the South. Dr. Shirley was a musical prodigy. Though he knew it would be dangerous to play events in the Deep South, he felt compelled to show the audiences in those typically racist communities that they could open their hearts and minds if they chose to.
In the film, Dr. Shirley is played by Mahershala Ali. I hadn't seen Ali on screen since Moonlight, and was excited to watch him take on a completely different role.
Directed by Peter Farrelly (best known for Dumb & Dumber and There's Something About Mary), the film centers around Dr. Shirley's relationship with his driver (and security guard) Tony "the Lip" Vallelonga. Tony is played by Viggo Mortensen, who gained 45 pounds for this role. Fun fact: Mortensen is 60 years old, playing Vallelonga at a time when he was just 32.
Tony comes from a very traditional Italian family. He has a wife (played by Linda Cardellini) and two young sons. He agrees to leave them for the two months before Christmas, because they desperately need the money. Tony's son, Nick Vallelonga, co-wrote the script for the film.
When Dr. Shirley and Tony first meet, it's at Dr. Shirely's apartment above Carnegie Hall in New York City. Dr. Shirley is dressed formally and sits on an actual throne to conduct the interview. Tony can't hide his brash attitude and no-nonsense take on the world, which Dr. Shirley finds appalling.
Despite their clear differences, Dr. Shirley's record label decides Tony is the best man for the job. They hand him keys to a new car, the tour schedule, and something called the Green Book, which is a guide to where in the south it's safe for black families to eat and stay the night.
What transpires next is a bit predictable - Dr. Shirley and Tony arguing as they drive, attempting to get to know each other, and eventually having a few moments of truce. Their relationship begins to form in earnest when Dr. Shirley helps Tony write letters home to his wife that are so romantic, she starts gathering all her girlfriends to read them aloud back home at their apartment in the Bronx.
While watching, my friend and I were both wondering if Ali learned to play piano for this part. I read in Deadline that the film's composer, Kris Bowers, was the hands on screen. The piece also says, "In fact, Shirley never wrote any of his music down, so Bowers had to transcribe his jazz music to composition by ear."
Personally, I loved this movie. I laughed, I cried, and I enjoyed the incredible music. It was also cool to see photos of the real Dr. Shirley and Tony during the end credits. That's when you also learn that the men remained friends their entire lives, and passed away within three weeks of each other.
In doing some research on the film before sitting down to write this post, I discovered that many reviewers hated the movie, and that distaste has been reflected in the box office numbers. This piece in Vulture does a great job explaining why people aren't flocking to the theater.
I'm so curious, did you see the movie? What did you think?