Rob Reviews "A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood"
Last year, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” was easily one of the best films of the year. Profiling Fred “Mr.” Rogers, it had all of the feels and helped remind me that there IS good in the world, no matter how hard it has to be searched for. For me, this was where it could have stayed and I would have been good. Then, it is announced that a narrative staring Tom Hanks, I was OK with it but thought it might be double-dipping.
What I found out was that with “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” Marianne Heller was NOT doing a biopic but rather using an Esquire magazine article on him as the basis for more of a tale of the other side of that relationship. With Matthew Rhys playing journalist Lloyd Vogel, known for his less-than-pleasant opinions on his subjects that is sent to do a quick four hundred words on the children’s icon, this story takes a life more for Vogel than it does for Rogers. Vogel carries a level of darkness with him stemming from the death of his mother at a young age coupled with an absentee father who is not only trying to get back in his son’s good graces while dealing with addictions and demons of his own (the always amazing Chris Cooper). He desperately wants to do better for his own family with his wife, Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson) and newborn son but still wants to have his career at the same time. His time with Fred Rogers not only changes him but also everything around him in ways that he could never imagine.
Not even going to bury the lede here: I was weepy twice in the first thirty minutes of this one-hour-and-fifty minute film. From a strong script that teaches enough for a miniseries to spot-on performances (and I will get to Hanks in a minute) and even transitions that nod to the way traveling was done on “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” this film is nothing short of brilliant and functions as a perfect companion piece to the documentary in order to tell both the tales of the man himself as well as the effect he has on those who came in contact with him.
Hanks simply takes his generation’s “America’s Dad” and merges him with that title that he currently owns in one of the most interesting ways that only few can. While he never physically disappeared into the role for me, his cadence, diction, and body language did more than enough in that category. This performance (which has become the norm for him at this point) gave me the opportunity to simply sit back, relax, and give all of myself to this film, letting its emotions engulf me in a way that very few films can. Sure, this can be attested to its subject matter, but when a story is this strong and tugs on so many heart strings, the reasoning doesn’t matter.
While the “PG” rating DOES come from some adult situations, I do wonder if Rogers himself would still tell parents to watch this film with their families. So many times on his show, he was able to talk to children about darker subjects (see the way he handled Vietnam in the documentary while finding out that was their FOURTH episode EVER), so I think he would say that it is OK to deal with the issues of family, relationships, trust, and friendship that “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” does. Heck, I am getting a bit misty typing this. This is one of those films that EVERYONE should see to help us remember whom we NEED to be versus who we think the rest of the world wants us to be. So go out and make it a brand new day!