A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood Review
'A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood' is more than a simple Mr. Rogers biopic. It's actually not a Mr. Rogers biopic at all.
Release Date: November 22, 2019
MPAA Rating: PG
Based on the true story of a real-life friendship between Fred Rogers and journalist Tom Junod.
Director: Marielle Heller
Screenwriters: Micah Fitzerman-Blue, Noah Harpster
Producers: Youree Henley, Leah Holzer, Peter Saraf, Marc Turtletaub
Cast: Tom Hanks (Fred Rogers), Matthew Rhys (Lloyd Vogel), Chris Cooper (Jerry Vogel), Susan Kelechi Watson (Andrea Vogel), Maryann Plunkett (Joanne Rogers),
Editor: Anne McCabe
Cinematographer: Jody Lee Lipes
Production Designer: Jade Healy
Casting Director: Any Kaufman
Music Score: Nate Heller
After last year’s terrific documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor, a lot of people are wondering why we need another movie about Mr. Rogers. Well, fear not. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is not the Mr. Rogers movie that everyone thinks it’s going to be.
Set in the mid-nineties, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is about an Esquire Magazine reporter named Lloyd Vogel (The Post’s Matthew Rhys) who is given the assignment of writing a profile of beloved children’s television host Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks from Sully and Bridge of Spies) for an upcoming issue about heroes. At first, Lloyd thinks that it’s just a fluff piece that falls way below his investigative journalism pay grade. But meeting Mr. Rogers changes the reporter’s life, and the friendship that results from that meeting helps Lloyd deal with his own tense family problems.
Written by Micah Fitzman-Blue and Noah Harpster (the pair who also wrote Maleficent: Mistress of Evil), the screenplay for A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood was inspired by a 1998 Esquire profile of Fred Rogers called “Can You Say…Hero?” by Tom Junod. The movie is, more or less, Junod’s experience with meeting and befriending Rogers. The first clue that things are not going to be all sunshine and daisies is the fact that the film is directed by Marielle Heller, who has explored the darker side of humanity in movies like The Diary of a Teenage Girl and Can You Ever Forgive Me? There’s a whimsical presentation to A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, but it hides a troubled and tumultuous story.
It’s also not Mr. Rogers’ story at all. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is Lloyd’s story, and Mr. Rogers is just a supporting bit player. A very influential bit player, and one who commands every scene in which he appears, but a bit player nonetheless. Lloyd’s story is one of a dysfunctional and estranged family, one of heartbreak and heartache, and his friendship with Mr. Rogers helps him navigate the rough waters. Those close to Rogers in the film say that he likes broken people, and if that’s true, Lloyd has met him at the perfect time. He’s the ray of light in Lloyd’s otherwise dark life.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is not the feel-good story that one would expect from a movie about Fred Rogers, but it’s not all gloom and doom, either. It’s uplifting without being saccharine, the toy car transitions and singing puppets illustrating that there’s good in even the worst situations, as long as you know where to look for it. And the good in a bad situation is something that everyone needs to find every now and then.
There’s a lot of buzz about Tom Hanks in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, and he does a good job as Mr. Rogers, but it comes off as more of an impression than a performance. It’s a good impression, but an impression nonetheless, and one that really doesn’t do anything to develop the character. Of course, the character of Fred Rogers needs no further development, but everyone and their mother does a Mr. Rogers impression, and Hanks doesn’t bring anything special to the role. He doesn’t have to. Mr. Rogers is a cultural icon.
Matthew Rhys, on the other hand, is very convincing as Lloyd Vogel. Sympathetic and relatable, he plays the angry skeptic with a heart of gold very well. Lloyd goes into his interviews with Mr. Rogers looking for some fault in the man, and when he finds none, he realizes that Mr. Rogers really is as good of a person as he seems to be. This is where Lloyd goes from doubter to disciple, and Rhys makes the transition flawlessly, with just enough disbelief for the audience to be able to transition with him. It’s Lloyd’s story, and Rhys takes advantage of that fact by stealing the spotlight away from Hanks’ Mr. Rogers.
Score and Soundtrack
Of course, the music of Fred Rogers is all over A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, and it’s great to hear not only the classic opening theme “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” and the show closer “It’s Such a Good Feeling,” but all of the other songs like “You Are Special,” “I Like You As You Are,” and “Am I A Mistake?” from the classic series. There are other pop songs sprinkled throughout the movie from the likes of Cat Stevens, Tracy Chapman, and Nick Drake, and even needle drops from Raffi and Yo-Yo Ma just to keep it from being a Rogers-only soundtrack. It’s all good, but the Fred Rogers songs are what stick. They’re simultaneously retro and timeless, and they never get tired.