The titular book is revealed to be the guide for African-American motorists traveling across the South. When Don Shirley (Academy Award winner Mahershala Ali), a jazz pianist, embarks on a tour that will end in the Deep South, his newly hired driver-cum-bodyguard, Tony Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen), has to make use of the traveling guide to ensure the musician has a place to stay every night.
Of course, more obstacles await this particular unwanted duo—an Italian bouncer hired to chauffeur a black man—in the South circa the early ’60s. Initially, they do not particularly care for one another. Tony is far from enlightened in his view of the races, but needs the money. Don quickly dismisses his brutish new traveling companion with poor grammar and an appetite much greater than his palate is refined. As the two learn about one another, they find their worldviews opened and forge a lifelong friendship.
The dramatized origins of this bond are the exact sort of award-friendly comfort food eaten up by older audiences, and it goes down easily. Mortensen is particularly charming as self-proclaimed bullshit artist Tony Lip, and renders his growth from the typical racism of his day to disgruntled protector to progressive pal with authenticity and a good dose of humor. Peter Farrelly, of the Dumb and Dumber Farrellys, shows that his talent for sophomoric humor translates well to humorously saccharine sentimentality.
Green Book may portray a changing worldview, but this melodrama is too slight to be transformative. Still, it will make you feel a little bit better about a world whose current ugliness seems like it is attempting to one-up an unpleasant era that frequently seems less bygone than believed.