Review: Superbly acted ‘Green Book’ makes its case for being a new holiday classic

There is feel-good familiarity to the big-hearted “Green Book,” so much so it’s bound to become a cable-network holiday favorite airing in between constant showings of “A Christmas Story” and “Law & Order” marathons.

Directed by Peter Farrelly, the comedy-drama dabbles in humor and weighty matters equally well in tackling the prejudice of the Jim Crow South – and the initial intolerance of two very different men who find common ground, learn from one another and form a close friendship on a musical road trip.

“Green Book” (★★★½ out of four; rated PG-13; in select cities Friday including New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Washington and Chicago; nationwide Nov. 21) offers shades of “The Odd Couple,” “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” and a race-flipped “Driving Miss Daisy.” But it’s the master class put on by Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali that powers this moving and often hilarious work and gives it mass appeal.

In “Green Book,” based on a real-life episode in 1962, Italian-American tough guy Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga (Mortensen) is one of the best bouncers in New York City, doing odd jobs to provide for his family in the Bronx. Because of his reputation, he’s asked to be the driver – and a one-man security force – for Dr. Don Shirley (Ali), a renowned black classical pianist readying for a concert tour of the South.

Casually racist at first, Tony’s a little iffy on the gig for a few reasons – especially since it will keep him away from beloved wife Dolores (Linda Cardellini) and his family up until Christmas Day. But ultimately she gives her blessing (plus the money’s too good), and Tony and Doc embark on their journey in a Coupe de Ville, armed with “The Negro Motorist Green Book” to let them know what hotels, restaurants and businesses are friendly to African-Americans.

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