Green Book (film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Peter Farrelly|
|Music by||Kris Bowers|
|Edited by||Patrick J. Don Vito|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Box office||$321.8 million|
Green Book is a 2018 American biographical comedy-drama buddy 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 and Italian American bouncer Frank "Tony Lip" Vallelonga 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.
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 grossed $321 million worldwide. The film received positive reviews from critics, with praise for Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali's performances, although it also drew some criticism of its depiction of both race and Shirley.
Green Book received numerous accolades and nominations. It won the Academy Award for Best Picture, at the 91st Academy Awards, in addition to winning Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor for Ali. The film also won the Producers Guild of America Award for Best Theatrical Motion Picture, the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, the National Board of Review award for the best film of 2018, and was chosen as one of the top 10 films of the year by the American Film Institute. Ali also won the Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild, and BAFTA awards for Best Supporting Actor.
In 1962 New York City, bouncer Tony Lip searches for new employment while the Copacabana is closed for renovations. He is invited to an interview with Dr. Don Shirley, a black pianist in need of a driver for his eight-week concert tour through the Midwest and Deep South. Don hires Tony on the strength of his references. They embark with plans to return to New York City 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 farther 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 is 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 beat Don and threaten his 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. In the south, Don is found in a gay encounter with a white man at a pool, and Tony bribes the officers to prevent the musician's arrest. Later, the two are arrested after a police officer pulls them over late at night in a sundown town; Tony punches the officer 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 pressures the governor and subsequently the station officers to release them.
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 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 and Don leave the venue and instead have dinner at a predominantly black blues club where Don joins the band on the piano, after playing Chopin's Étude in A minor. Tony and Don head back north to try to make it home by Christmas Eve. Tony invites Don to have dinner with his family, but he declines and returns to his own home. Sitting alone in his home, Don decides to go back to Tony's home, where he is warmly greeted by Tony's extended family.
The end title cards show real-life photos of the characters and state that Don continued to tour, compose and record songs, while Tony went back to his work at Copacabana. It also states that Tony and Don remained friends until they died within months of each other, in 2013.
- Viggo Mortensen as Tony Lip
- Mahershala Ali as Dr. Don Shirley
- Linda Cardellini as Dolores, Tony's wife
- Sebastian Maniscalco as Johnny Venere, Dolores' brother
- Dimiter D. Marinov as Oleg, Dr. Shirley's cellist
- Mike Hatton as George, Dr. Shirley's bassist
- Von Lewis as Bobby Rydell, Copa Singer
- Brian Stepanek as Graham Kindell, country club manager
- Joseph Cortese as Gio Loscudo
- Iqbal Theba as Amit, Don's servant
- P.J. Byrne as Record Exec
In addition, Tony and Dolores Vallelonga's son, Frank Jr., appears as his own uncle, Rudy (Rodolfo) Vallelonga (who says, "I'm just saying, we're an arty family"), while their younger son (and the film's co-producer and co-screenwriter), Nick, appears as Augie, the Mafioso who offers Tony a job doing "things" while the Copacabana is under renovation. The real Rodolfo Vallelonga appears as his own father, Grandpa Nicola Vallelonga, while the real Louis Venere appears as his own father, Grandpa Anthony Venere. Another co-producer and co-screenwriter, Brian Currie, plays the Maryland State Trooper who helps out in the snow storm. Actor Daniel Greene, who frequently appears in films directed by the Farrelly brothers, portrays Macon Cop #1.
Viggo Mortensen began negotiations to star in the film in May 2017 and was required to gain 40–50 pounds (18–23 kg) 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 stand-in when closeups of hands playing were required.
The script was written by Vallelonga's son Nick Vallelonga, as well as Brian Hayes Currie and Peter Farrelly, in consultation with the Shirley family and estate.
For the film's soundtrack, Farrelly incorporated an original score by composer Kris Bowers and one of Shirley's own recordings. The soundtrack also includes 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 II'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." The music played at the black blues club toward the end of the film featured the piano performance of Étude Op. 25, No. 11 (Chopin), known as the Winter Wind etude by Chopin, was not included in the soundtrack release.
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 studio spent an estimated $37.5 million on prints and advertisements for the film.
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.
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".
Green Book grossed $85.1 million in the United States and Canada, and $236.7 million in other territories, for a total worldwide gross of $321.8 million, against a production budget of $23 million. Deadline Hollywood calculated the net profit of the film to be $106 million, when factoring together all expenses and revenues.
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 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: 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 it would achieve $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. The weekend following its Best Picture win, the film was added to 1,388 theaters (for a total of 2,641) and made $4.7 million, finishing fifth at the box office. It marked a 121% increase from the previous week, as well as one of the best post-Best Picture win bumps ever[clarification needed], and largest since The King's Speech in 2011.
Green Book was a surprise success overseas, especially in China where it debuted to a much higher-than-expected $17.3 million, immediately becoming the second highest-grossing Best Picture winner in the country behind Titanic (1997). As of March 7, 2019, the largest international markets for the film were China ($26.7 million), France ($10.7 million), the United Kingdom ($10 million), Australia ($7.8 million) and Italy ($8.6 million). By March 13, China's total had grown to $44.5 million. On March 31 the film passed $300 million at the global box office, including $219 million from overseas territories. Its largest markets to-date were China ($70.7 million), Japan ($14.6 million), France ($14 million) Germany ($13.5 million) and the UK ($12.9 million).
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 77% based on 354 reviews, with an average rating of 7.24/10. 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, with 80% saying they would definitely recommend it.
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 five awards at the 91st Academy Awards, winning three awards for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali. Green Book was the fifth film to win Best Picture without a Best Director nomination. Green Book had five 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.
Shirley family reaction
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." Some of Maurice Shirley's statements contradict an audio recording from "Lost Bohemia", which featured interviews with Don Shirley and Vallelonga. In one of them, Shirley said that "I trusted him implicitly. You see, Tony got to be, not only was he my driver. We never had an employer/employee relationship". The interviews also support other events depicted in the film.
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. Nick Vallelonga, the film's co-writer and Tony Vallelonga's son, acknowledged that members of the Shirley family were hurt that he did not speak to them and that he was sorry they were offended. He told Variety that "Don Shirley himself told me not to speak to anyone" and that Shirley "approved what I put in and didn't put in."
Concerns about depiction of race
The film has been criticized for advancing a white savior narrative in film that perpetuates stereotypes. Salon said the film combines "the white savior trope with the story of a bigot's redemption". Peter Farrelly told Entertainment Weekly that he was aware of the white savior trope before filming and sought to avoid it. He said he had long discussions with the actors and producers on the point, and believes that it was not advanced by the film, saying it is "about two guys who were complete opposites and found a common ground, and it's not one guy saving the other. It's both saving each other and pulling each other into some place where they could bond and form a lifetime friendship."
New York Times writer Wesley Morris characterized Green Book as being a "racial reconciliation fantasy". Morris argues that the film represents a specific style of racial storytelling "in which the wheels of interracial friendship are greased by employment, in which prolonged exposure to the black half of the duo enhances the humanity of his white, frequently racist counterpart". Writing a positive appreciation in The Hollywood Reporter, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar noted that "filmmakers are history’s interpreters, not its chroniclers."
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