Did your teachers ever give you shit for using the word “nice” in your written assignments? Well, Green Book is a nice movie, and I’m a professional writer now, so the joke’s on you, teachers!

That’s really the only word for it: nice. Green Book tells the supposedly true story of a black jazz pianist, Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), and his white driver, Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen), as they go on a concert tour through the segregated South in 1962.

Although they’re both from New York, they’re from entirely different worlds: Shirley (or “Doc,” as Tony calls him) moves through the rarified air of highbrow culture, living in an apartment above Carnegie Hall where he perches on a literal throne. Tony, on the other hand, is an Italian American stereotype made sentient, a “whattsamattayou” tough guy with a tenderly soft underbelly (quite literally—there are probably only two scenes in the movie that don’t have Mortensen lustily stuffing some sort of food into his maw).

The problem is that, when he first meets the Doc, Tony doesn’t like black people so much. Hey, he’s an Italian from Queens! That’s how dey do it ovah der! So Green Book’s biggest red flag is that it’s essentially another Driving Miss Daisy story about how to solve racism in three convenient acts. If only every racist white guy could go with a patient, thoughtful black man on a two-month tour of the Deep South!

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But like I said, the movie’s really nice, and it’s hard to get too mad at it. Ali and Mortensen are both awfully good, and the script, for all its familiarity, is kind of comforting in its shticky predictability. Best of all, Don Shirley isn’t the type of character we ever see in these movies: He’s prickly, snobbish, and deeply troubled, dealing with alcoholism, homosexuality, and a music industry that doesn’t really have a place for his unconventional talent. He’s wise, but not a “magical black man,” and his character arc is substantially more significant than Tony’s.

A lot of people are going to like Green Book. It’s a good holiday movie, ideally suited for seeing with family members who might need a little prodding to be open-minded; it makes its obvious case for tolerance and friendship, then bows and leaves. Sure, it’s got some substantial problems, and it elides a lot of racial issues and nuances in order to sell a feel-good story. It probably wouldn’t have flown in the Obama era. But in the Trump era? Maybe we should take what we can get. recommended

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