Note: I saw A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood early December, but I didn’t have the chance to post a review since I saw it the day before I left school and more concentrated on packing everything before moving out. My apologizes for this late review.
When A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood was coming out, the recent news of Tom Hanks actually being related to the real Mister Fred Rogers makes a lot of sense since both of them are just seem to be the nicest people on the face of the earth. They are indeed sixth cousins removed. How interesting is that? So, it doesn’t come as a shocker to know he would kill this performance regardless of the discovery wasn’t there.
What’s the Story: Set in 1998, Esquire magazine journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) has gotten an assignment to profile the one and only Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks), the beloved television host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, for an article about heroes, even though Lloyd doesn’t do these kinds of pieces. As he gets to know more about the iconic man and vice versa, there’s a lot more to be found within Lloyd on the inside and the friendship that blooms between them on this journey.
I didn’t think it was possible, but Hollywood has given the people two movies focusing on the beloved television host. In 2018, we got the brilliant documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? from filmmaker Morgan Neville, and that was of the best movies I enjoyed that year. If it was so great, how come the snub at the Oscars is still one of life’s greatest mysteries? But A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood was a drama I was anticipating ever since I heard about it. Believe or not, this is the second time Marielle Heller is directing a drama about a real-life person since her previous film was the Oscar-nominated Can You Ever Forgive Me? with Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant, which wasn’t that bad. If there was anything to get out of this, it would be to be nicer to the people around me and to see Hanks own it. Did it? Even if I didn’t think it was a phenomenal movie, I say so.
From Heller’s viewpoint, I knew she wasn’t pushing this to be a straight-forward biopic, although this story is actually based on the Esquire article, “Can You Say… Hero?” by journalist Tom Junod. The film is almost played out like an episode of the show, including doing a re-creation of the classic opening and telling the audience about Lloyd’s life. Another thing that was an interesting approach was having its transition scenes through miniature models like the ones used for the television show, as well. They were also shooting Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood show with the same cameras used in the original program and made it look retro in a good way, along with re-creating the show’s studio in Pittsburgh.
Was there any reason to think Hanks will not give it his all as Fred Rogers? The man can do anything. He already portrayed Walt Disney (Saving Mr. Banks), Richard Phillips (Captain Phillips), and Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Sully), so it isn’t a major shock that he pulled this performance off. The first scene where he’s doing to opening to the show made me put a smile on my face. You’re able to get over the fact that he might not look exactly like him the same way as comparing Michael Fassbender to Steve Jobs (Steve Jobs) or Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding (I, Tonya). Now, I haven’t seen Rhys in a ton of stuff, even though he’s gotten a ton of praise for this role in television’s The Americans, which won him an Emmy, he does a terrific job acting opposite Hanks. This is his movie after all since I believe he’s the main star, and their chemistry helps the film a lot.
The best scenes truly involve any conversation between Fred and Lloyd while getting information for his piece. Being able to talk about family and they just felt comfortable before it might go in a different direction. Fred doesn’t see himself as a celebrity. He’s there to teach kids’ important lessons, just like a parent would teach them. As someone who doesn’t remember watching his show a lot as a kid, his presence is utterly heartwarming and the kind of person you want to receive a hug from. Then from Lloyd’s perspective, we see how he has a difficult relationship with his father Jerry (Chris Cooper) since he wasn’t there when his mother was ill, and he’s just starting a family with his wife Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson, This is Us) and their new son. Screenwriters Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster might not have everything factually right and didn’t have the emotional strength to hit me where it hurts, but it captures the bond we’re supposed to feel between the two of them.
But there was one scene, in particular, I didn’t see coming. When Fred and Lloyd are at a restaurant, they sat in absolute silence for one minute and think about the people you love or they love you and remember them. It’s a moment that compares gracefully to the real Rogers doing the same thing when winning his Daytime Emmy and giving his commencement address at Dartmouth College. What made it better is that you feel like doing it yourself when it’s happening on the screen, able to provide a meaningful message that anybody can resonate with.
Even though Hanks is considered the main star, he is more of a supporting role since we’re focusing more on Virgil’s story and what he’s been recently dealing with. His job as a journalist is to see people who they really are when he’s reporting a story. He’s the kind of man who doesn’t buy into the shtick that Rogers is putting on to impress everybody. It didn’t bother me that Hanks isn’t in the movie that much, but Heller tried her hardest to make this friendship carry through its two hours in hopes to break down his wall and see through the other side of all things.
With the cons I took note with the film, it was a little tough trying to connect with Lloyd in the first act since he appeared to be an unlikeable person to emotionally attached to. It might split some people with that opinion, but he appeared a jerk, especially when he’s around his father, but that issue went away after a while. Other than that, it can feel slow occasionally, and I didn’t expect this to be a slow burn. Maybe it was because I was feeling a bit tired the day I saw it. And it’s seen as predictable, but that didn’t matter to me since I expected the film to leave on a happy note.
Because we are living in a time where it’s becoming stressful or mean-spirited in real-life or on social media, it’s difficult trying to see through people going through these problems. I can understand where most people can relate to Lloyd sometimes. But getting through those times by spreading some kind of positivity to the people we know or don’t know shows that there’s hope to be found in surrounding places. I believe I mentioned this in my Won’t You Be My Neighbor? review, but I honestly feel like there should be somebody to be the next Fred Rogers to make us feel better about ourselves. We need more people with a positive outlook on life.
It would be hard to pick which movie about the man is better since one’s a documentary and the other is a drama. But if I had to choose, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? gets my vote since I felt more attached to that film more and I got more genuine emotions from it.
Ultimately, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood was pleasantly enjoyable. I didn’t quite love it since it felt a bit of a slow burn. But even though this wasn’t one of the best movies I’ve seen out of 2019, it doesn’t take away from providing its audience what it means to be a good person in life. I’m so glad Hanks got a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his performance because he perfectly captured the heart of who he was portraying, and it’s worth the watch if you require a good drama to be comforting. There’s a likely chance you’ll feel like a less bitter after checking it out.