Green Book: The True Story of A Life-Changing Road Trip

Green Book is the chronicle of the real-life, interracial friendship between Tony “Lip” Vallelonga, a Bronx nightclub bouncer, and Don Shirley, a Manhattan pianist and composer.
Green Book Cinema Weekender Summary
Don Shirley, "Green Book" 's first role, played by Mahershala Ali / Universal Pictures

This article was originally published on February 24th, 2019.

When Tony opposes the local mafia and loses his job, he lands an interview with cultivated and cosmopolitan Don Shirley. Dr. Shirley is going on a two-month tour to the American South and needs a chauffeur and a bodyguard.


With messy, mouthy Tony at the wheel and classy, introverted Shirley in the back seat of a glamorous Cadillac, a journey of self-discovery and bonding begins. From Shirley frowning at Tony’s smoking habits, music taste, and cravings for greasy food to helping him write polished love letters to his wife — this movie is about the evolution of the relationship between two contrasting personalities, who happen to live in a horrendous time in history.
Courtesy Universal Pictures

In the 1960s, it’s not just a thrilling adventure for a black person to travel through the Southern United States. It’s incredibly unsafe to go to places which obey to the Jim Crow racial segregation laws. And, it’s socially unacceptable and provoking for a black man to be driven by a white man. Because, even if his white audience applauds the same black man’s talent, he is still denied services in hotels and restaurants, and he is obliged to use outdoor lavatories.
Courtesy Universal Pictures

In spite of the hypocrisy of white supremacy, the true story of Tony and Shirley shows us that human beings are capable of overcoming ludicrous social barriers. All they need is space and time to understand each other and develop mutual respect. To watch this progression for as long as the movie lasts, is magical; it’s soul-stirring, and it fills you with hope for the society you live in. The film ends with Tony’s traditional Italian-American family around the Christmas Eve table, where there’s always space (both physical and inner) for unexpected guests such as Dr. Shirley.

The Actors and Characters

As Nick Vallelonga, the son of the real-life Tony and co-writer of Green Book has said in his interviews, the intention of Green Book isn’t to recite America’s dark history of injustice and discrimination. The movie focuses on the two men, and therefore no compromise could be made regarding the selection of the lead actors who are the be all and end all of the film.
Courtesy Universal Pictures

Danish-American Viggo Mortensen enlivens the almost caricaturistic character of a proud and genuine (virtually naive) Italian-American, who is also problem-solving and hot-tempered. Mahershala Ali, whom we have mostly seen in series such as House of Cards, plays a determined black man, dedicated to his art. Watching his outstanding performance, it comes as a surprise that it’s not him playing the piano, but the movie’s composer Kris Bowers. Tony’s wife, Dolores (Linda Cardellini) may not appear in many scenes, but her presence is bold, even when not physically there. It is through her and thanks to her that we observe many of Tony’s flaws and transformations.

Why it’s a ‘Must-See

Green Book discusses the harrowing subject of brutal racism in a discreet and funny manner with moderate doses of drama. This technique is bright for bringing up such a serious and relevant problem, and stimulating thought-provoking conversations among even the most mainstream audiences. 
The Negro Motorist Green-Book, was a state-by-state guide of black-friendly places to eat, sleep and get gas, published from 1936 to 1967, by postal carrier Victor Green

Ever since the 1960s, travelling has changed forms, but more than ever, we use travel guides in all kind of formats (e.g., apps, hard copies, online). Green Book gives an insight into the deep meaning of a journey. So, in a metaphorical sense, maybe what we have to do more often is leave the guide on the side, enjoy the unexpected, take risks, and connect with our fellow travellers — even if it means looking within ourselves.


    Among many awards and nominations, Green Book is put forward for four Oscars, namely Best Motion Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role, and Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role. Green Book won three Golden Globes, and was nominated for four BAFTA awards, of which Mahershala Ali won the title of the Best Supporting Actor.

    The Negro Motorist Green-Book was a travel guide, created by Victor Hugo Green, a postal employee. The handbook had useful advice and information for black travellers to help them avoid places where they would put them in danger, and spots where they weren’t welcome such as hotels, restaurants, etc. The Green Book was published for about 30 years until the late 1960s.

    Some of Tony’s real-life family members appear in the movie such as his son Frank Vallelonga, who plays Tony’s brother. Tony Lip (1930-2013) was an actor and book writer. He is best known for his participation in The Sopranos.  


    Director: Peter Farrelly

    Writers: Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Farrelly

    Actors: Linda CardelliniViggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Don Stark, Sebastian Maniscalco

    Music: Shirley and Kris Bowers

    Rating: PG-13

    Genres: Biography, Comedy, Drama

    Running Time: 2h 10m

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