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Green Book is a 2018 American biographical drama film directed by Peter Farrelly. Set in 1962, the film is inspired by the true story of a tour of the Deep South by African-American classical and jazz pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) and Italian-American bouncer Tony Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) who served as Shirley's driver and bodyguard. The film was written by Farrelly, Brian Hayes Currie and Vallelonga's son, Nick Vallelonga, based on interviews with his father and Shirley, as well as letters his father wrote to his mother. The film is named after The Negro Motorist Green Book, a mid-20th century guidebook for African-American travelers written by Victor Hugo Green, to help them find motels and restaurants that would accept them.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Peter Farrelly|
|Music by||Kris Bowers|
|Edited by||Patrick J. Don Vito|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Box office||$144 million|
Green Book is a 2018 American biographical drama film directed by Peter Farrelly. Set in 1962, the film is inspired by the true story of a tour of the Deep South by African-American classical and jazz pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) and Italian-American bouncer Tony Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) who served as Shirley's driver and bodyguard.
The film was written by Farrelly, Brian Hayes Currie and Vallelonga's son, Nick Vallelonga, based on interviews with his father and Shirley, as well as letters his father wrote to his mother. The film is named after The Negro Motorist Green Book, a mid-20th century guidebook for African-American travelers written by Victor Hugo Green, to help them find motels and restaurants that would accept them.
Green Book had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 11, 2018, where it won the People's Choice Award. It was then theatrically released in the United States on November 16, 2018, by Universal Pictures, and has grossed $144 million worldwide. The film received positive reviews from critics, with Mortensen's and Ali's performances being lauded, although it drew some criticism for its perceived historical inaccuracies.
Green Book won the National Board of Review award for the best film of 2018, and was also chosen as one of the top 10 films of the year by the American Film Institute. Among other accolades, the film won the Academy Award for Best Picture, as well as Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor (Ali), and was also nominated for Best Actor (Mortensen) and Best Film Editing. The film also won the Producers Guild of America Award for Best Theatrical Motion Picture and the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy.
New York City bouncer Frank "Tony Lip" Vallelonga is searching for new employment after the nightclub where he works is closed for renovations. He is invited to an interview with "Doc" Don Shirley, an African American pianist who is looking for a driver for his eight-week concert tour through the Mid-West and Deep South. Don hires Tony on the strength of his references. They embark with plans to return to New York on Christmas Eve. Don's record label gives Tony a copy of the Green Book, a guide for African-American travelers to find motels, restaurants, and filling stations that would serve them.
They begin the tour in the Midwest before eventually heading further south. Tony and Don initially clash; as Tony feels uncomfortable being asked to act with more refinement, while Don is disgusted by Tony's habits. As the tour progresses, Tony is impressed with Don's talent on the piano, and increasingly appalled by the discriminatory treatment which Don receives from his hosts and the general public when he is not on stage. A group of white men threatens Don's life in a bar and Tony rescues him. He instructs Don not to go out without him for the rest of the tour.
Throughout the journey, Don helps Tony write letters to his wife, which deeply move her. Tony encourages Don to get in touch with his own estranged brother, but Don is hesitant, observing that he has become isolated by his professional life and achievements.
Don is found in a gay encounter with a white man at a YMCA pool and Tony bribes the officers to prevent the musician's arrest. Don is upset that Tony "rewarded" the officers for their treatment. Later, the two are arrested after a police officer pulls them over late at night in a sundown town and Tony punches him after being insulted. While they are incarcerated, Don asks to call his "lawyer", and uses the opportunity to reach Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, who personally arranges for their immediate release. Tony is amazed by the experience, while Don is humiliated. This leads to an argument where Tony angrily considers himself "darker" than Don. Having reached his breaking point, Don laments to Tony that his affluence prevents him from identifying with people of his race while his race prevents him from being accepted by white people, and his homosexuality from being accepted by most people of any race, making him feel truly alone in the world.
On the night of the final performance on tour in Birmingham, Alabama, Don is refused entry into the whites-only dining room of the country club venue where he has been hired to perform. Tony threatens the owner, and Don refuses to play since they refuse to serve him in the room with his audience. Tony then takes Don to get dinner at a predominantly black blues club where Don rouses the crowd with his music. Tony and Don head back north to try to make it home by Christmas Eve. Don takes over driving duty during a snowstorm when Tony gets tired, and they make it in time for Tony's family dinner, to which he invites Don. Don returns to his own apartment, but ends up going to Tony's, where he is welcomed by all after a brief silence and is thanked by Tony's wife for helping him write his letters.
On the end credits, real life photos of the characters and texts are shown, saying that Don continued to tour, compose and record songs, while Tony went back to his work at Copacabana. It is also shown that Tony and Don remained friends until they died, within months of each other, in 2013.
Viggo Mortensen began negotiations to star in the film in May 2017, and put on 40–50 pounds for the role. Peter Farrelly was set to direct, from a screenplay written by Nick Vallelonga (Tony Lip's son), Brian Currie, and himself.
On November 30, 2017, the lead cast was set, with Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini and Iqbal Theba confirmed to star. Production began that week in New Orleans. Sebastian Maniscalco was announced as part of the cast in January 2018. Score composer Kris Bowers also taught Ali basic piano skills and was the talent stand-in when closeups of hands playing were required.
On November 7, 2018, during a promotional panel discussion, Mortensen said the word "nigger". He prefaced the sentence with, "I don't like saying this word", and went on to compare dialogue "that's no longer common in conversation" to the period in which the film is set. Mortensen apologized the next day, saying that "my intention was to speak strongly against racism" and that he was "very sorry that I did use the full word last night, and will not utter it again."
For the film's soundtrack, Farrelly incorporated an original score by composer Kris Bowers, one of Shirley's own recordings, and rarities from 1950s and 1960s American music recommended to him by singer Robert Plant, who was dating a friend of Farrelly's wife at the time he had finished the film's script. During dinner on a double date, his wife and her friend stepped outside to smoke and the director asked Plant for advice on picking songs for the film that would be relatively unknown to contemporary audiences. This prompted Plant to play Farrelly songs via YouTube, including Sonny Boy Williamson III's "Pretty 'Lil Thing" and Robert Mosley's "Goodbye, My Lover, Goodbye". In an interview with Forbes, the director explained that the soundtrack ended up not only avoiding rote nostalgia, "but also those songs were really inexpensive and I did not have a huge budget so I was able to come up with some sensational pop songs from the time that were long forgotten."
A soundtrack album was released on November 30, 2018, by Milan Records, featuring Bowers' score, songs from the plot's era, and a piano recording by Shirley. According to the label, it was streamed approximately 10,000 times per day during January 2019; this rate doubled the next month as the album surpassed one million streams worldwide and became the highest-streamed jazz soundtrack in Milan's history.
Green Book began a limited release in the United States, in 20 cities, on November 16, 2018, and expanded wide on November 21, 2018. The film was previously scheduled to begin its release on the 21st.
The film had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 11, 2018. It also opened the 29th New Orleans Film Festival on October 17, 2018, screened at AFI Fest on November 9, 2018 and was programmed as the surprise film at the BFI London Film Festival.
As of February 24, 2019[update], Green Book has grossed $69.6 million in the United States and Canada, and $74.4 million in other territories, for a total worldwide gross of $144 million, against a production budget of $23 million.
The film made $312,000 from 25 theaters in its opening weekend, an average of $12,480 per venue, which Deadline Hollywood called "not good at all", although TheWrap said it was a "successful start," and noted strong word-of-mouth would likely help it going into its wide release. The film had its wide expansion alongside the openings of Ralph Breaks the Internet, Robin Hood and Creed II, and was projected to gross around $7–9 million over the five-day weekend, November 21 to November 25. It made $908,000 on its first day of wide release and $1 million on its second. It grossed $5.4 million over the three-day weekend (and $7.4 million over the five), finishing ninth. Deadline wrote that the opening was "far from where [it needed] to be to be considered a success," and that strong audience word of mouth and impending award nominations would be needed in order to help the film develop box office legs. Rival studios argued that Universal went too wide too fast (going from 25 theaters to 1,063 in less than a week).
In its second weekend the film made $3.9 million, falling just 29% and leading some industry insiders to think the film could leg out to $50 million during awards season. In its third weekend of wide release, following its Golden Globe nominations, it dropped 0% and again made $3.9 million, then made $2.8 million the following weekend. In its eighth weekend, the film made $1.8 million (continuing to hold well, dropping just 3% from the previous week). It then made $2.1 million in its ninth weekend (up 18%) and $2.1 million in its 10th. In the film's 11th week of release, following the announcement of its five Oscar nominations, it was added to 1,518 theaters (for a total of 2,430) and made $5.4 million, an increase of 150% from the previous weekend and finishing sixth at the box office.
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 79% based on 301 reviews, with an average rating of 7.28/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Green Book takes audiences on a surprisingly smooth ride through potentially bumpy subject matter, fueled by Peter Farrelly's deft touch and a pair of well-matched leads." On Metacritic the film has a weighted average score of 69 out of 100, based on 52 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film a rare average grade of "A+" on an A+ to F scale, while PostTrak reported filmgoers gave it a 91% positive score and an 80% "definite recommend".
Writing for The San Francisco Chronicle, Mick LaSalle praised Ali and Mortensen and said: "...there's something so deeply right about this movie, so true to the time depicted and so welcome in this moment; so light in its touch, so properly respectful of its characters, and so big in its spirit, that the movie acquires a glow. It achieves that glow slowly, but by the middle and certainly by the end, it's there, the sense of something magical happening, on screen and within the audience." Steve Pond of TheWrap wrote, "The movie gets darker as the journey goes further South, and as the myriad indignities and humiliations mount. But our investment in the characters rarely flags, thanks to Mortensen and Ali and a director who is interested in cleanly and efficiently delivering a story worth hearing."
Jazz artist Quincy Jones said to a crowd after a screening: "I had the pleasure of being acquainted with Don Shirley while I was working as an arranger in New York in the '50s, and he was without question one of America's greatest pianists ... as skilled a musician as Leonard Bernstein or Van Cliburn ... So it is wonderful that his story is finally being told and celebrated. Mahershala, you did an absolutely fantastic job playing him, and I think yours and Viggo's performances will go down as one of the great friendships captured on film."
Green Book has received numerous award nominations. In addition to winning the People's Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2018, Green Book was nominated for 5 awards at the 91st Academy Awards, winning three awards for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali, and 5 nominations at the 76th Golden Globe Awards, with the film winning Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy. The National Board of Review awarded it Best Film, and it was also recognized as one of the Top 10 films of the year by the American Film Institute.The film was also nominated for Cinema for Peace Most Valuable Film of the Year 2019.
Shirley's relatives condemned the film, stating that they were not contacted by studio representatives until after development, and that it misrepresented Shirley's relationship with his family. Don's brother Maurice Shirley said, "My brother never considered Tony to be his 'friend'; he was an employee, his chauffeur (who resented wearing a uniform and cap). This is why context and nuance are so important. The fact that a successful, well-to-do Black artist would employ domestics that did NOT look like him, should not be lost in translation."
Mahershala Ali responded with an apology to Shirley’s nephew Edwin Shirley III, saying that "I did the best I could with the material I had" and that he was not aware that there were "close relatives with whom I could have consulted to add some nuance to the character." Writer-director Peter Farrelly said that he was under the impression that there "weren't a lot of family members" still alive, that they did not take major liberties with the story, and that relatives of whom he was aware had been invited to a private screening for friends and family. On January 14, 2019, NBA Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar published a piece in The Hollywood Reporter defending Green Book despite its alleged historical inaccuracies. Abdul-Jabbar argued that discrepancies of some of the depicted events "may irk family members", but "they don't really matter because those plot details are about getting to a greater truth than whatever the mundane facts are."
Nick Vallelonga said in a January 2019 interview with Variety magazine that Dr. Shirley asked him not to speak to anyone else while writing the story. He went on to explain:
It's unfortunate to me because I don't want to hurt the Shirley family in any way. [Don Shirley and Tony Vallelonga] were together a year and a half and they did remain friends. There's a lot of information [that the Shirley family] doesn't have, and they were hurt that I didn't speak to them. But to be quite honest with you, Don Shirley himself told me not to speak to anyone. And he only wanted certain parts of his life. He only allowed me to tell what happened on the trip. Since [the family] were not on the trip—this is right out of his mouth—he said, "No one else was there but your father and I. We've told you." And he approved what I put in and didn't put in. So obviously, to say I didn't contact them, that was hard for me because I didn't want to betray what I promised him.
Films directed by the Farrelly brothers
Awards for Green Book