A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, 2019.
Directed by Marielle Heller.
Starring Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Susan Kelechi Watson, Chris Cooper, Enrico Colantoni, Maryann Plunkett, Tammy Blanchard, and Wendy Makkena.
After a jaded magazine writer is assigned a profile of Fred Rogers, he overcomes his skepticism, learning about empathy, kindness, and decency from America’s most beloved neighbor.
If there is to be a ‘feel-good’ movie of the year, it is apt it would be about Mr. Fred Rogers, one of the kindest faces in children’s television in North America. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood tells an endearing and human story that pulls at the heart in several places. Both funny and moving, the film boasts a great cast with Tom Hanks delivering a great performance that captures the spirit of Mr. Rogers.
Inspired by a true story, the film follows Matthew Rhys’ Lloyd Vogel, a cynical journalist who doesn’t believe in the best of people or the world. After being forcefully assigned to do a profile on Mr. Rogers, Lloyd’s time with the children’s icon makes him confront his personal fears and problematic issues with his estranged father thanks to Mr. Rogers’ philosophy and life lessons.
While on the outside A Beautiful Day might seem like a biopic on Fred Rogers, it isn’t that. The heart of the story lies on the father/son relationship (or rather lack of one) between Lloyd and Chris Cooper’s Jerry with Mr. Rogers being more of a guide and spectator to Lloyd’s struggles. Rhys delivers a very strong, emotional and relatable performance as Lloyd, displaying the pain and anger at his father’s unexpected return just as he is dealing with becoming a father himself. It’s easy to both root for and shake your head at Lloyd as the story presents him as a very human character, flaws and all. He shares great chemistry with his supporting cast, particularly with This Is Us‘ Susan Kelechi Watson and Cooper who each turn in strong performances which carries a lot of emotion.
However, they pale in comparison to Hanks’ take on Mr. Rogers. Hanks steals the scene whenever he is onscreen and presents Rogers as a very kind, compassionate and human man. Though Hanks plays more of a significant supporting character throughout the film, he embodies everything people remember best about Mr. Rogers. It’s quite entertaining to see him transform into Rogers with ease, capturing Rogers’ pauses, tone of voice and even some of his mannerisms. Someone like Mr. Rogers feels so larger than life, but Hanks grounds his portrayal as the film focuses on how Rogers is and – yet at the same time – is not like everybody else through his relentless cheeriness while offering insight into Rogers’ private life. He and Rhys are quite good together throughout the film, especially in the latter half as Vogel’s frustration grows while Rogers slowly batters down his cynical wall.
Marielle Heller’s direction is quite good. The film looks great with nice cinematography, including some funny transitional scenes inspired by Rogers’ show, while the story flows well. Not a scene feels out of place or worthy of a cut as everything builds upon what came before. It succeeds because Heller places a lot of emphasis on the character driven plot and focuses on their faces for much of the one-on-one talks, especially during some the heavier scenes in the film. Much of it feels like an episode of Mr. Rogers for adults and that only helps capture the tone and nature of Hanks’ portrayal. Several points in the film pull at the heartstrings and quite successfully too with its ruminations on cynicism vs. optimism, family and, most importantly, forgiveness to others and yourself.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is – no pun intended – beautifully directed by Heller with an outstanding cast. Hanks and Rhys carry the weight of the film on their shoulders with a great character driven story. Hanks’ performance will stay with you for a while, serving as a reminder of how special Rogers was in a feel-good film that feels very much in need right now. Whether you know Mr. Rogers or may just be discovering him for the first time, it’s a great film to watch thanks to its characters and deeper themes.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Ricky Church – Follow me on Twitter for more movie news and nerd talk.