Based on a true story, this movie pairs up the unlikely friendship between an oafish Italian bouncer and a sophisticated African-American concert pianist as they take a cross-country trek together in the Deep South. BTW: a Green Book was the essential guide for blacks for safe lodging, food, and more in the turbulent and racist 60’s.
Meet Tony “Lip” Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen with a sizeable gut), a chain-smoking goombah who’s crass, uncultured, and looking for work while the NYC nightclub he works for is closed for renovations. He eventually lands a job as a chauffeur/bodyguard for famed pianist, Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali). Needless to say, their first encounter doesn’t go well, as Tony’s flippant, uncultured behavior clashes with Don’s cultured, refined, and dignified demeanor. However, Don eventually hires Tony on the strength of others’ word.
As they embark on a concert tour, with plans to return home on Christmas Eve, Tony is given a copy of the Green Book for Don. The tour begins relatively smoothly, with the inevitable Tony & Don clashing over their differences. Don is uncomfortable with Tony’s lackadaisical attitude and slovenly eating manners, while Tony feels that Don is ‘busting his balls” for being asked to act prim and proper. But if there’s one thing that Tony is, it’s loyal to his contract and his employer, and he shows it on the road when common prejudices and racial profiling raises its ugly head.
As their adventures continue into the tour, Tony comes to better understand Don, while Don loosens up from his strict conservative ways. There’s laughs, drama, and both men facing turmoil from each other and having to deal with the horrible injustices that were the cruel 60’s South. The script, written by Nick Vallelonga (son of Tony), Brian Hayes Currie (Two Tickets To Paradise) and director Peter Farrelly (Dumb & Dumber, Shallow Hal) hits all the marks in a buddy/road-trip comedy you want, with just the right amount of pathos, irony, and humor to satisfy the adult moviegoer. AND it all really happened, as seen by the flash cards at the end credits.
But this isn’t your normal Farrelly gross-out comedy, this one has heart, compassion, and a gut-wrenching message interwoven in the humor and growing friendship that these two started with each other. The Kentucky Fried Chicken scene is just one example of breaking down socials barriers using eleven secret herbs ‘n’ spices and poultry. The dialogue is catchy, fun, and makes you feel for these characters instantly.
And the acting! Mortensen and Ali are the perfect odd couple, matching scene for scene in what I can only say are both Oscar-worthy roles. Mortensen, packing on the pounds to play a wizeguy really plays this guy close to home, whose appetite for food is matched only for his appetite for fair play. Ali, on the other hand, gives a remarkably restrained performance as a man whose dignity is put to the test on a daily basis. Also excellent is Linda Cardellini as Tony’s loving wife, Dolores. And don’t forget Sebastian Maniscalco as Tony’s loud-mouthed friend, Johnny. He a born scene-stealer!
It’s the Deep South in 1948, and Mrs. Daisy Werthan (aka Miss Daisy, played to perfection by Jessica Tandy) is a stubborn, acerbic, and unfiltered 72-year-old wealthy Jewish widower who lives alone in her sumptuous Atlanta, Georgia home, save for her colored housemaid named Idella (Esther Rolle). When Miss Daisy drives her car into her neighbor’s yard, her son Boolie (Dan Ackroyd) buys her a new car and hires Hoke Colburn (Morgan Freeman), an African-American chauffeur. Miss Daisy is at first reluctant to let anyone drive her, but gradually gives in, mostly due to Hoke’s equally stubborn streak.
Years pass and Miss Daisy and Hoke spend more and more time together. The film explores not only racism against African-American people, but also anti-semitism as well. After Miss Daisy’s synagogue is bombed, she realizes that she is also a victim of prejudice, just like Hoke. But things get heated as she goes to a dinner to hear Rev. Martin Luther King speak, but doesn’t invite Hoke inside with her. Hoke, insulted by the manner of the invitation, has to listen to the speech on the car radio outside.
More years pass and one day Hoke arrives to find Miss Daisy showing signs of dementia. In a heart-wrenching scene, Daisy calls Hoke her “best friend” as Boolie arranges for Miss Daisy to enter a retirement home. The ending will just tear you up, guaranteed. Uhry, who adapted his own play into this brilliant Best Adapted Screenplay Award film, only did it one other time, and that was for his 1988 movie, Mystic Pizza, which has now become a Broadway musical.
Bruce Beresford (Crimes of the Heart) directed the hell outta this movie, opening up the claustrophobia stage play of two people sitting in a car to a whole new world. And casting Tandy and Freeman was just the icing on the cake, as these two both won Best Acting in their respective fields. The movie touches on many hot-button social issues, not least of which was social status, which Uhry tackled as fiercely as he did with racism and prejudice. But the manner he portrayed it was done with humor, and not a sledge-hammer as Daisy and Hoke spare with each in a war of words and class status. To see these two actors of infinite talent go at it is worth the price of admission alone.
Tasty Trivia: Uhry based this story on his own grandmother and her chauffeur and their relationship. Who wanted to play Miss Daisy? How about Kathryn Hepburn, Bette Davis, Angela Lansbury, Bette Midler, and Lucille Ball. Who wanted to play Hoke? Eddie Murphy! As an inside joke, Broadway singer Patty Lupone plays a minor character who’s asked not to sing.