There was, and still is, no doubt that the Farrelly brothers are amongst the most successful and skilled directors in the film industry. With films such as Dumb & Dumber and There’s Something About Mary, the iconic duo has brought joy and laughter to countless audiences over the years. And although the brothers were well known for their comedic movies, it seemed that their fanbase was mostly unfamiliar with their talent in other genres. But then The Green Book was released into the theaters, and let it be known: The Green Book is most certainly not a comedy film, but rather a reflection of today’s social dilemmas projected onto the silver screen.
The movie follows Tony “Lip” Vallelonga, a burly, stereotypical tough-guy from an Italian neighborhood, working dual jobs as a bouncer and personal driver. At first, Tony is presented as a very lovable family man, honest and good-hearted. That is, until, we see two African American plumbers working in his house. Tony’s wife, Dolores, offers the two men a glass of water, which they gladly take before going on their way. As soon as they leave, Tony sneaks into kitchen, plucks the two cups from the sink, and tosses them into the trash can. And suddenly, the audience realizes that Tony is, in fact, a racist.
A few days pass as Tony searches for a hirer when a friend approaches him about a certain Doctor Don Shirley, who was searching for a driver and an assistant at the time. While it seemed like a simple escorting job in the beginning, Tony soon came to discover that Doctor Shirley was an African-American. He was a piano prodigy, going on a Christmas tour to play in front of crowds of people. And although he did not like the prospect of spending eight weeks with Shirley, the unlikely pair embarked on their journey through the Deep South, a journey that would impact them for the rest of their
One thing this film seeks to emphasize immediately is the dynamic between Tony and Doctor Shirley. Contrary to most living situations for black men and women, Shirley lived very lavishly. His home resembled that of a palace, decorated with ivory tusks and golden ornaments. On the other hand, Tony lived a very simple life, living in a modest home in the Bronx. This detail automatically lets the viewers know that the tables have been turned: while most Caucasian men and women at the time lived more comfortably than African-Americans, here we see Doctor Shirley living like a king compared to Tony.
Another detail that this film makes an effort to show is that the primary propeller of racism is plain ignorance. Towards the beginning of the film, Tony is rather blatantly racist, suggesting that Doctor Shirley must enjoy fried chicken because of his ethnicity and that he must not be “black enough” because he didn’t know certain black musicians. And although it would be easy to dismiss Tony’s offensive speech as a product of intolerance and pure hatred, taking the time to observe his behavior reveals the truth about his actions.
Later on in the movie, Shirley attempts to explain to Tony that just because he may not possess the stereotypical features of a black individual doesn’t make any less African-American than someone else. However, despite Doctor Shirley’s help, Tony struggles to realize what Shirley is trying to convey. He simply doesn’t understand what it feels like to be the victim of ridicule and humiliation; and neither do any of the other white men in the south. Doctor Shirley also expresses his frustration with not being accepted in both the white and black communities. His African-American peers despise him for his wealth and his more “proper” demeanor, while the white people surrounding him reject him for his ethnic background. There is a very powerful quote from this film that perfectly embodies Doctor Shirley’s emotions: “If I’m not black enough, and if I’m not white enough, and if I’m not man enough, then what am I?” Such a question is asked by countless people across the globe, even today.
There’s no doubt about how truly gorgeous this film is. From the wonderful color palettes to the rich, resonating imagery, every second of the film is a piece of art. But what really makes this film so beautiful is its relevance to the world we live in today. Despite this movie, which is based on the true story of Don Shirley and Tony Vallelonga, taking place nearly five decades ago, society has more or less remained the same. Many people, ranging from young adults to the elderly, are still uneducated and uninformed of the various cultures or customs that reside in their community. Many more are subject to such people, forced to tolerate offensive gestures and inappropriate slurs, going home to their families in humiliation.
What people must realize is that The Green Book is not only speaking to the victims, but is also speaking to the offenders. Peter Farrelly, the director of this film, acknowledges that racism could be treated by simple explanation and exposure. He knows that the story of Shirley and Vallelonga is worth telling because it provides a prime example for those, who may still be unaware, to follow. Don Shirley and Tony Vallelonga both died in 2013 within months of each other, but their story continues to live on to this day.