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Film Review: Green Book

Green Book (2019)
Universal Pictures

Directed by: Peter Farrelly
Written by: Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie & Peter Farrelly
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini, Sebastian Maniscalco & Dimiter D. Marinov

Peter Farrelly is the director of road movie Green Book, a heartwarming story of two very different men, from very different backgrounds who form a friendship that changes them both forever. Starring Viggo Mortesnen and Mahershala Ali as driver and minder Tony, and pianist Don, we follow the characters as they embark on a tour of the deep south. Don Shirley is a virtuoso pianist, touring the country and playing for the rich and famous, under the watchful eye of the initially racist Tony, who has been employed by the record company to deliver the musician to every tour date to ensure a healthy pay check. It’s a classic set up, and the film hits a lot of familiar beats on the way, although that presents it’s own need for scrutiny.

The screenplay is based on the real life events that surrounded the pair, although it has to be said that there have been rumblings that certain aspects of the film may not have been quite true, and the film has led to the family of Don Shirley becoming quite vocal about discrepancies that they feel were unfair to the family. In fact other articles point to the fact that the family were never really consulted about the making of the film at all, and despite what the producers say, the pair seemed to only be involved in an employee and employer relationship, with the friendship being fabricated for the film itself. When viewed in this context, it certainly seems that despite it’s many award nominations, Green Book is essentially a work of fiction that strikes a chord in the social fabric of today’s society, and is bound to get the cinema seats filled in the first quarter of the year.

So reviewing the film is a tricky business. The screenplay is in itself delightful, and the acting is fantastic, especially from the two leads, and watching the friendship develop is touching,funny and poignant. The characters do feel real, and the 1962 setting always looks authentic. Sure there are moments when things seem a little cobbled together, Tony meeting two friends from New York coincidentally in the same venue as the next tour date only happens to reinforce Tony’s loyalty to Don, but on the whole things play out nicely, and there are some great scenes that highlight the arc the two men have, leading to a satisfactory conclusion.

It’s the “based on a true story” bit that leaves a slightly more bitter taste. Had the film been a work of fiction, or perhaps had it stayed truer to the real events, then it would have held a little more weight for me, but instead the screenplay takes us down some well driven roads. From the initial set up, you pretty much know where the story is going, and there are very few surprises along the way. However what stops the film becoming cliche is the assumption that what we are seeing is true. If the family of Don Shirley is to be believed, then you start to understand how a Hollywood version of “true” events is much more palatable to an audience, and let’s face it, those Hollywood guys have to make sure that what goes on the screen is going to get cinema goers planking down their hard earned money for.

If I sound slightly bitter here, it’s only because I did enjoy the film for all the reasons listed above and the realization afterwards that it plays fast and loose with the truth diminishes the initial viewing. If it was up to me, I would have made the movie letting everyone know it was only inspired by a true event, and changed the names to avoid confusion. You would have had a neat film with a great and relevant message and some marvelous performances without all the controversy afterwards, but what do I know? I just slap my money down on a weekly basis and hope for the best.