I know you don’t typically see my column in the Arts section, but this installment of “Simple & Sassy” is a bit of a departure from my usual schtick. See, when I was younger, I wanted to be film critic. It was the only job I could think of that would allow me to get paid to watch movies, and watching movies was one of my favorite things to do outside of taking naps.
As I got older, I realized the likelihood of being a professional film critic was more of a fantasy than a potential reality. The demand for film critics was in short supply, so I needed to pick a profession where there’d be more opportunities. I got the idea in my head to become a journalist when I was 13, and 20 years later, I’m glad I followed my intuition even when people told me I could do something better for myself.
I’ve loved my life as a reporter, but what is especially cool is that I get to play film critic once a year when the Napa Valley Film Festival rolls around. I get to live my dream of getting paid to watch movies! Granted, I am writing this column at 1 a.m. because I’ve been watching films all day, but dreams require sacrifice.
A lot of the films featured at the Napa Valley Film Festival are passion project independent films that may never see the light of day outside of the festival circuit. But a few future blockbusters get previewed at the festival, and of the 11 feature films I viewed this year, “Green Book” is the film I recommend the most. And lucky for you, it comes out in theaters nationwide later this month.
“Green Book” is based on the true story of African American prodigy pianist Dr. Don Shirley (played by Academy Award winner Mahershala Ali) and the unlikely friendship he develops with Italian American Tony Vallelonga (played by Viggo Mortensen) in 1962. In the film, Shirley is about to embark on a concert tour in the deep south, and he hires Vallelonga to be his driver and bodyguard.
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The men couldn’t be more different from each other. Shirley is refined and possesses a calm that helps him maintain composure even as he faces prejudice at every turn. Vallelonga is a tough guy with a soft family-man center. He is rough around the edges, stubborn and a bit reckless, but his heart is in the right place. Despite their differences, the two men begin to develop a bond and realize that there is a lot they can learn from each other.
The film was written by Nick Vallelonga (Tony’s son), Brian Currie, and Peter Farrelly. Vallelonga grew up knowing the story of his father’s time on the road with Shirley and knew it was a story that needed to be shared. He recorded interviews with his father and Shirley talking about their experiences — the good and the bad — and he used the transcripts to develop the screenplay.
What could have easily been a dramatic film smothered in the harsh truths of racism during the Civil Rights era is actually a lighthearted film about friendship and the purity of the human condition. “Green Book” is a story that serves as a reminder that even if we are different on the outside and come from different backgrounds, we’re all the same underneath. And in today’s chaotic world, the film’s message is a welcome reminder.
The film has its serious, gut-wrenching moments, but there is a surprising levity in the odd couple relationship between Vallelonga and Shirley that makes “Green Book” a smooth and entertaining ride.