Movie review: Green Book (2018)

“Don Shirley’s last living brother was ‘furious’ when he heard of the depiction of his brother… calling it ‘a symphony of lies.'”

Green Book movieMy wife and I went to see the movie Green Book at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany last week and we really enjoyed it. At some level, Ken Levine is right when he says it’s, at least in part, a “buddy road picture. Good performances, and scenes that hit all the desired emotions.”

If you just watch the film without context, you can appreciate the acting of Mahershala Ali as Dr. Don Shirley, an African-American classical pianist, Viggo Mortensen as Louie “Lip” Vallelonga, an Italian-American bouncer and Dr. Shirley’s driver in the Deep South in 1962; and Linda Cardellini as Dolores, Louie’s wife staying home waiting for her husband’s letters.

I’ll even defend one strain of criticism, that it seemed that the Italian guy knew more about fried chicken than the black guy. In a speech, “Don Shirley” describes the false narrative of the cliches of what being black in America is “supposed” to be, and I know from personal experience how dead-on he is.

More problematic, though, is information in this article, “How ‘Green Book’ And The Hollywood Machine Swallowed Donald Shirley Whole.” Most movies about real people and events from the escape scene at the end of Argo to the doubt of RBG in the upcoming film On Account of Sex.

But Edwin Shirley III was shocked by the “portrayal of his uncle as a Black man who is estranged from his family, estranged from the Black community and seemingly embarrassed by Blackness.

“Dr. Shirley’s last living brother, Dr. Maurice Shirley, 82, was ‘furious’ when he heard of the depiction of his brother… calling it ‘a symphony of lies.’ As one example, Maurice mentions the moment in the film where Ali’s character says he has a brother but didn’t know his whereabouts, as they hadn’t been in contact for some time. ‘At that point…, he had three living brothers with whom he was always in contact.”

A related article asks: When will Hollywood stop centering white people in Black stories? Certainly, it’s somewhat true here, in no small part because the story was written by Nick Vallelonga, Louie’s son. I didn’t find it a fatal flaw, because I thought Louie learned a lot from Don as well, but others disagree.

The one thing that actually DID bug me was that the title item, The Negro Motorist Green Book, was not described well enough for me. I mean I knew about it; heck, I WROTE about it in 2012. I’m recommending the movie Green Book, irrespective of the legitimacy of the controversy because it was entertaining. And maybe Americans now know more about Dr. Don Shirley and about a lifesaving publication in its history.

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

3 thoughts on “Movie review: Green Book (2018)”

  1. I’ve often, though not always, thought it’s better that mainstream audiences get some feel for the experiences of minorities, even if the depiction has problems, rather than no exposure at all. Maybe this is one of those times?

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