Saturday, December 21, 2019
Having never watched Mr. Rogers as a child and never seeing a full episode of the show, I have the opportunity to provide an unbiased review of the film. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood stars Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers. The other major character in the film is Lloyd Vogel, a seemingly cynical journalist played by Matthew Rhys. The two develop a peculiar relationship, and Vogel eventually writes an extremely complimentary piece about the television icon. Getting to that point is what the film's plot is all about.
Invitations were sent out to a large number of celebrities to participate in an interview with Vogel. However, due to his nasty reputation for writing unflattering profiles of those he interviews, the only one to agree to an interview is Mr. Rogers. At the time the two meet, Vogel is going through an intensely personal conflict with his father, Jerry Vogel (Chris Cooper). Jerry is a heavy drinker who in the past abandoned Lloyd and his mother when Lloyd’s mother was extremely ill. Lloyd cannot forgive his father for this. Jerry’s clumsy attempt to patch up their differences results in a fight where Lloyd is on the receiving end of getting a black eye. And with Lloyd not feeling good about himself, the last thing he wants to hear are platitudes from Mr. Rogers – the same platitudes Mr. Rogers likes to utter on his television show.
Yet something strange occurs while the two get to know each other. Perceptions are deceiving, and Lloyd discovers that Mr. Rogers is more complex than he could imagine. He discovers that Mr. Rogers has had his own struggles during his life. However, unlike Lloyd, he cannot remain bitter about them. Mr. Rogers does his best to abide by the feel-good philosophy that his viewers heard him describe for approximately 30 years. As Lloyd begins to take Mr. Rogers’ teachings more seriously, he ultimately patches up his differences with his father (who by the end of the film is dying), his father’s longtime girlfriend, Dorothy (Wendy Makenna), and his sister Lorraine (Tammy Blanchard). The other apparent benefit of Lloyd getting to know Mr. Rogers better is that he becomes a better husband to his wife Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson) and also a better father.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood at just 109 minutes is refreshingly short. Directed by Marielle Heller, this is probably the first notable movie she’s had while in the director’s chair. The film is original and quirky in its depiction of Mr. Rogers. But the movie is notable because of the acting of Hanks playing Mr. Rogers.
Mr. Rogers’ wife, Joanne (Maryann Plunkett), declines to describe her husband as a saint, but this film at times comes a bit too close as portraying Mr. Rogers as just that. Still, while portraying a character who sometimes appears to be too good to be true, Hanks is at least able to convince viewers that Mr. Rogers is a believable human being.
There is fortunately enough humor to keep this film, always on the edge of excess sentimentality, entertaining to viewers more used to seeing crassness on the screen. Like Juno, filmed in 2007, and Forrest Gump, starring Hanks in 1994, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood takes enough chances to make this better than your average Hallmark movie. And frankly, I believe it is better than either of these two earlier films. It will make most people think a little bit more about their neighbors than they did before watching this movie.
December 21, 2019
© Robert S. Miller 2019