By: Madison Watkins, A&E Editor
On Nov 3 for the last night of the SCAD Savannah Film Festival, the last screening of the festival was for the upcoming film “Green Book.” The film was screened to a packed house in the Trustees Theater following an award ceremony for SCAD alumnus actress Kayli Carter.
The film is based on the true story of a friendship between Italian-American bouncer turned driver from the Bronx Tony “Lip” Vallelonga and African-American classical pianist Dr. Don Shirley. The film stars Viggo Mortensen as Vallelonga and Mahershala Ali as Dr. Shirley. The film was written by Vallelonga’s son Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie, and Peter Farrelly.
The film follows Vallelonga as he gets hired to be the driver for Dr. Shirley on his concert tour through the South during the 1960s. As the embark on the journey, the two characters who couldn’t be more different find that they can learn a lot from each other. Through their experiences and Tony’s own encounter with racism, the two begin to respect one another and develop an extraordinary friendship.
I have to say that I had a really good time watching this film. The chemistry between Mortensen and Ali drives the story home and really make you care about the characters. The writing was also very well-balanced. Given the plot of the story, you can expect some heavy, dramatic moments, but they were very well-balanced via the comedy. There was much more comedy than I expected in the film, but it all came very naturally and did not overtake the serious moments. When it was serious, it was serious and when it was funny, it was funny.
I think the main reason the film worked so well is because it was such a personal story told by the son of the main character.
Writers Nick Vallelonga and Brian Hayes Currie were present for the screening and participated in a Q&A following the film. When they introduced themselves before the film started, I had no idea that Vallelonga was his son until the movie was over and I heard his name announced again.
With the help of the two other writers, Vallelonga was able to write a compelling story that felt very genuine. Once you know this information it also gives you a reassuring feeling that the story was in good hands and that they tried to make it as authentic as possible.
Vallelonga said in the Q&A that when he was younger he recorded his father’s and Dr. Shirley’s discussion of their story and that helped him during the script writing process. Thanks to those recordings, he said some of the scenes in the film are word-for-word what happened in real life.
Even though we have seen the story concept of white and black men and women becoming friends during times of racial tension, it has never been told in such a refreshing way. Since this film has characters that we have not seen in a story like this before, when the stereotypes of Italians and African-Americans are confronted during the film, it is mostly done in a comedic but tasteful.
One example of this is when Tony decides to stop at a KFC while they are driving through Kentucky. Tony repeatedly tries to get Dr. Shirley to try some but Dr. Shirley refuses because he has never had to eat food with hands. Dr. Shirley finally gives in and daintily holds the chicken leg while commenting on how greasy the food is. You hear him say “mmm” before the shot cuts away to the next scene.
Now to those of you who may be reading this or saw the movie trailer online and thought, “Wow, here goes liberal Hollywood again with another Oscar-bait pro-diversity movie just in time for December” I must tell you that was not the intention of this film. Given our country’s current political climate that may seem to be contrary, but it is not.
As Nick Vallelonga said in the post-screening Q&A, “I’ve wanted to do this film for the past 25 years… This is a sad fact, but the film would have been timely no matter when we released it.”
While the film certainly is timely, I think it’s a good thing it was released now because it gives you a fresh perspective on the issues we are still facing. Yes, things are not as bad as they used to be but there are still some current practices and mindsets that should not be allowed to continue.
I really do not have anything negative to say about this movie. The only thing I can think of is that sometimes it was hard to understand the thick Italian accents of Tony and his family members.
When “Green Book” is released on Nov 21, please go see it! It is worth your time and worth the price. Even though it does confront issues of today, the film is not all doom and gloom. It frequently offers messages of hope that many of us could benefit from hearing.
Mortensen and Ali also give Oscar-worthy performances that are definitely worth seeing.
I give “Green Book” the highest honor I can bestow: it’s the kind of movie where you don’t even want to get up to pee, so you don’t miss anything.