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Laramie Movie Scope:
Green Book

A very odd couple bonds, tripping through the 60s Deep South

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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December 11, 2018 – This very funny, heartfelt tale of an odd couple on a long road trip through the Deep South in the early 1960s, inspired by actual events, is powered by some wonderful performances, great music and powerful emotions.

This is really a story of two relationships, Tony Lip (born Frank Anthony Vallelonga) a bouncer at the famed Copacabana Night Club in New York, who mingled with high society types, as well as some Wise Guys. Played in the film by Vigo Mortenson, Lip is married to Dolores Vallelonga (played by Linda Cardellini of “Avengers: Age of Ultron”). He is hired as a driver for famed Jamaican-American pianist and composer Dr. Donald Walbridge Shirley on an eight-week tour of the Midwest and Deep South. This is the story of Lip and his wife, along with the friendship that develops between Lip and Don Shirley (played by Mahershala Ali of “Moonlight”).

The movie opens at the Copacabana where Lip gets himself into trouble beating up a troublesome customer and by stealing the hat of a powerful mobster, causing the temporary closure of the club. Looking for work to support his family, he interviews for the job of Don Shirley's driver, but balks at the extra duties, like cleaning clothes and shining shoes. He offers to drive the musician, but no extra duties, and he demands more money. Thinking he lost the job, he is surprised when the musician calls him at home and asks to speak to his wife about the prospect of Lip being away from home for so long. She agrees to the trip, and Lip is hired. For the trip, he gets a fancy rental car and a green book (The Negro Motorist Green Book, a travel guide to food and lodging businesses in the segregated South).

Lip got his nickname because of his ability to talk anybody into, or out of, anything. He came highly recommended for this job which might require Lip to talk his way out of some dicey situations that might arise in the Deep South where blacks like Don Shirley face severe discrimination. Immediately, there is a clash of cultures between the highly cultured Don Shirley and the poorly-educated educated Lip. Shirley has a doctorate of Music, Psychology, and Liturgical Arts and speaks eight languages. He is a classical musician, but makes his money in the more lucrative field of Jazz.

Lip is prejudiced against black people, but over the course of the trip, he comes to admire Don Shirley for his honesty, his courage and his mastery of the piano. Both men are plain speakers, in their own ways. They talk frankly, they argue, and by doing so, they break down the cultural barriers between them. Don Shirley disdains black stereotypes so much that he has ignored a lot of black culture in America, even famous musicians like Aretha Franklin and Little Richard. There is a funny sequence of events in which Lip introduces Shirley to fried chicken.

Lip's people skills come in handy in a bar where three white men are beating up Shirley. Lip talks them into letting him go, with the aid of a veiled threat and the bartender's shotgun. In another instance, Lip successfully bribes a couple of policemen who had arrested Shirley for homosexual activities. In another instance, Lip loses his temper and punches a policeman, getting them both thrown in jail. Don Shirley gets them both released from jail through the intervention of friends in high places.

There is a periodic return to love letters in the movie. Lip, who is barely literate, composes crude love letters to his wife, because he promised her he would. Don Shirley begins to help him with his letters, and soon, Lip's love letters to his wife become the envy of her family and friends back in New York.

While there is some drama, and romance in this movie, comedy is closest to the heart of it. Director Peter Farrelly, of Farrelly Brothers fame, is well-known for his comedies, such as “Fever Pitch” and “Shallow Hal,” but this is his best work, and is one of the best movies I have seen in years. Much of the credit goes to these two unforgettable characters, Tony Lip and Don Shirley and the actors who give them life in this movie. In addition to being a fine actor, Mahershala Ali does a great job in the piano playing scenes with his convincing fingering of the keyboards.

Interestingly, the real Tony Lip (who died in 2013) remained lifelong friends with Don Shirley after this road trip, was also an actor, appearing in “The Sopranos,” “The Godfather,” “Goodfellas,” “Donnie Brasco,” and a number of other films. Lip's sons, Nick (a writer and director in his own right) and Frank Vallelonga appear in “Green Book,” along with Rodolfo Vallelonga, who I think is Tony Lip's brother.

While this movie does strain credibility at times, and it is probably not politically correct, I laughed a lot and responded to the emotional content of this film, which is powerful. There is an old saying that drama is easy and comedy is hard. This film gets both just right, and that is truly rare, making this a movie to treasure. This film rates an A.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2018 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]