A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019) Review
In the realm of young children’s entertainment, Mister Rogers Neighborhood is considered one of the more classic examples of early development for youths; something akin to the setup / understanding of Sesame Street. Hosted and created by Fred Rogers, the show, which was a set as an educational children’s television series (aimed for ages to 2 to 5, but could be interpreted for all ages), followed the kindly man known as “Mr. Rogers”, sharing experience and meeting people throughout the course of a episode. Some elements were used in live-action, while others parts (i.e. the World of Make Believe) utilized puppetry with various characters and segments. Mister Rogers Neighborhood debuted back in 1962 and ended on August 31st, 2001; becoming one of the longest running children’s shows in history. Additionally, the show was known for dealing with serious issues (i.e. death, anger, divorce, and diversity), but in way and understanding for a young child to cope and learn from; creating a highly praised platform to tackle such emotional feelings and coping with potential confrontational problems within many kids out there. Now, Sony Pictures (Tristar) and director Marielle Heller present the “based on a real life” drama feature that shines a light on Fred Rogers and the impact he has made in the movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Does the film find its thematic message or does get lost within Fred Roger’s “Make Believe” world?
Set in 1998, Lloyd Vogel seems like he has it all together with his life, but face troublesome woes behind his façade. He’s an award-winning journalist for Esquire Magazine, yet his jade views and disconcerting articles have labelled him as a “bad boy”, with potential exposé clients decline to interview with him. Likewise, his personal life should be a joyous one, with Lloyd becoming a new father and welcoming a baby into his life with his spouse, Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson), but finds resentment and anger within his estranged father, Jerry (Chris Cooper) and harsh past that they share. Dealing with a recent post-scuffle with his father at his sister’s wedding, Esquire sends Lloyd off to Pittsburgh to interview Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks) for a sort of “puff piece” on American heroes, which goes against his journalistic standards. Feeling out of place and grudgingly meeting with Fred, LLyod is disarmed by the famed host of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”, getting to know the man and grasp his life as a man of faith and interest in the emotional values that Mr. Rogers depicts with children. Allowing his adult cynicism and unresolved childhood pain to lead him astray, Lloyd finds a strange connection with Fred during several meetings, handed an opportunity to make peace with his anger as their ensuing an uncanny friendship develops.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Mister Rogers….I do remember it the show, but not quite as fondly as some viewers out there. During my youth (growing up in my childhood), I never watched Mister Rogers Neighborhood that much because the show was usually on (the PBS TV station) during the morning hours (usually 11 AM or noon). So, unless I was sick at stayed home from school or during the summer time and / or on holiday vacation, I rarely had the chance to see the Mister Rogers. I do remember some of the scenarios (mostly the puppets and the opening / closing sequences), but I was curious and interested in Sesame Street than Mister Rogers. Still, looking back at what Fred Roger was able to accomplish with the show, Mister Rogers Neighborhood stands as a fine achievement in children’s entertainment. Of course, its really the “sign of times” and probably modern children / viewers might not particular “get the show”, but tackling issues, feelings, emotions, and diversity is something worth endeavoring upon and presenting in a way for children to understand is quite endearing.
Naturally, this brings me back to talking about A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, a 2019 biopic drama that captures a glimpse into Fred Rogers and the magazine journalist that is sent to interview him. To be honest, I kept on getting confused about this movie’s release and the 2018 documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (a film I have yet to see). Still, looking pass the misconception of the two movies, I was curious to see A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood for both being a movie about Fred Rogers (aka Mr. Rogers) as well as actor Tom Hanks playing the role of Fred Rogers. When the movie’s trailer finally debuted, I was pretty excited to see this movie as it was something I was expecting to see and looked like the film was gonna quite a crowd pleaser. Plus, a lot of the “word of mouth” from all the advance screenings (2019’s Toronto International Film Festival) got me even more interested in seeing the movie when it got released in late November 2019. So, I finally had the chance to see A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood a few days ago. What did I think of it? Well, I liked and then some. Barring a few minor problems, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a beautiful and inspiring motion picture that showcases a tale of love, hope, and forgiveness that strong aided by Hanks’s portrayal of Rogers. The movie might be the most “ground breaking film” of the 2019 year and might not be for everyone, but it was definitely something worth seeing and its sincere message speaks volumes, especially in today’s world.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is directed by Marielle Heller, whose previous directorial works includes such projects like The Diary of a Teenage Girl and Can You Ever Forgive Me? Given the success of Can You Ever Forgive Me?, a 2018 film that showcases some truly awesome acting talents from actress Melissa McCarthy, Heller once again turns her theatrical directing skills on yet another biopic drama, delving into a another interesting piece of showcasing a noteworthy individual and learning more about their persona lives. Perhaps one of the most interesting aspect that Heller does while shaping A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is framing the movie as a sort of long-lost episode from Mister Rogers’s Neighborhood; opening up the movie the same way the TV series did as well as a few iconic sequences that make their way into the feature, including the World of Make Believe and the transition movements of Mister Roger’s Neighborhood for the film’s settings. Speaking to the TV series framing work for the film, Heller keeps in-line with Roger’s ideas of cope / understanding of emotional issues, with the movie showcasing Lloyd’s story arc of dealing with anger and forgiveness. This also is well-handled in the film’s script, which was penned by Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster, that deals with these poignant and meaningful issues as Lloyd Vogel (with the help of Fred Rogers) is allowed to express and understanding the emotions that burdened him in his life; struggling with his past and dealing with the present. Thematically speaking, Fitzerman-Blue / Harpster’s script is richly charged for a emotional journey that certainly both speaks to what the real-life Fred Rogers believed in as well as giving the film a sincere gesture of humanity and goodwill. We all feel anger sometimes, especially in today’s world (a world in a state of flux due to hate, violence, bigotry), so it’s good that the movie reinforces the idealism of how to deal with such anger and how forgiveness can offer an inspiring cleansing of the body and mind for an individual. Thus, with that in mind, Heller crafts the feature in a wholesome direction; one that definitely works and truly does speak to its audience, much like Fred Rogers was able to do in his famed TV series.
Presentation-wise, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a solid and creates a wholesome feature film that looks both pleasing to the eye and cinematically stable. Of course, the ideas of framing the feature as an episode is quite ingenious with the charming yet off-beat world of Mister Rogers’s Neighborhood being incorporated into the background aesthetics of the movie; offering up a quaint and nostalgia filled viewing experience. Thus, the film’s technical background teams should all be highly commended for their efforts on this project. Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Nate Heller (Marielle’s brother), has a nice touch and has plenty of melodic moments throughout, especially ones that are sweet and tender. There are a few times where the score doesn’t match up with the scene (one or two times I believe), but Heller’s work on the project is good.
There are few problems with the movie that makes A Beautiful a Day in the Neighborhood have a few rough patches / bumps within its narrative and execution of its cinematic tale. Of course, the most prevalent one is in the “real life” aspect vs. filmmaking fiction. Naturally, as I mentioned above, the film’s primary plot is rooted in reality with the exchange between journalist and Fred Rogers actually happening. However, like many “based on a true-life story” movie adaptions, Heller does take some poetic license when telling this particular encounter, especially within the drama happen around the character of Lloyd Vogel, who in reality was actually named Tom Junod. Why the change? Well, there could be some “red tape” involved surrounding Junod’s name (among other reasons for the change), but it was probably to “spice” the feature up and add more cinematic drama to the feature’s proceedings. Of course, this certainly does, but it’s a bit easily to tell on what was true and what was a little bit fabricated in the movie. That’s not so much to say that Heller was a bad director or anything, but rather something commonplace in these types of endeavors. Because of this, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood plays out in a predictable manner, with a lot of the setup, pitfalls, and overall resolution of the main narrative having a formulaic touch. What’s given is good (and definitely sincere), but nothing revolutionary different from what’s come before in similar film projects.
Another problem, which again is mostly a minor one, is that the movie is a tad slow in certain parts. Of course, I wasn’t expecting this film to be a fast pace or anything like that, but Heller meanders the feature’s main story in a slow manner, which does cause a few pacing problems throughout the movie’s 109-minute runtime., which it shouldn’t. So, some viewers out there might find the film to be a slightly boring. I surely didn’t, but could’ve been trimmed better in the editing process. Another problem I noticed is that the movie doesn’t focus some areas on Fred Rogers; leaving some ideas / concepts dangling. Naturally, Heller wants A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood to be focused on Vogel’s journey and seeing his character’s personality evolve in the movie and only use Fred Rogers as more of the secondary character in the film’s story. Yes, I agree with that analogy, but I just wished that the movie sheds a bit more light on Roger’s personal life. The film’s script does shine a few moments into his private life, but I was hoping for more. I guess I’ll just have to watch Won’t You Be My Neighbor sometime soon….to get the whole picture of Fred Roger’s life.
What definitely makes A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood shines (looking beyond its endearing story of hope and forgiveness), lies within the feature’s cast, especially those found in its two primary lead roles of Fred Rogers and Lloyd Vogel; represented by actors Tom Hanks and Matthew Rhys. Despite being more of the secondary character of the two, Hanks, known for his roles in Apollo 13, Forest Gump, and Castaway, delivers an stirring and strong performance as Fred Rogers as the seasoned actor finds the right balance warmth and popularity and kindness that seems quite in-line with the real-life counterpart that Rogers was famously known for. As to be expected, Hanks, who is a skilled actor, is able to dig into the characters and definitely plays upon the quiet / soft-spoken humanity that Rogers was known for, showing that every person isn’t perfect and is need of helpful guidance (not matter how old a person can be). I really couldn’t see any other actor (be it famous or unknown) playing Fred Rogers other than Hanks. Thus, some might argue that this particular movie isn’t the “movie of the year” type of material, but, much like Melissa McCarthy in Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Hanks pulls off a tremendously powerful role as the kind-hearted Mr. Rogers. Hopefully, he gets a Oscar “nod” for this role.
Likewise, Rhys, known for his roles in The Americans, Burnt, and The Post, projects a wholesome cinematic quality within his portrayal of Lloyd, a man who feels broken and filled with cynicism; looking for a way to deal with his past emotions. Despite having Hanks billed as “main attraction” of the feature, Rhys’s Lloyd Vogel is technically the true main protagonist character, with Rhys giving a multi-façade performance within the character. Sure, it’s more interesting to see Hanks as Fred Rogers, but the whole emotion crux of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood resides (and resonates) within Lloyd’s personal journey that he undergoes throughout the film. It’s easy to see where his journey leads (again, one of the minor problems of the movie), but it’s easy to root for Lloyd, with Rhys and Hanks sharing some great scenes together.
In more supporting roles, actor Chris Cooper (The Bourne Identity and Live by Night) and actress Susan Kelechi Watson (This Is Us and Third Watch) play important characters in the movie as Lloyd’s estranged father Jerry Vogel and Lloyd’s attentive / concerned wife Andrea Vogel. Of the two, Cooper is the more “seasoned” acting talent (probably the second veteran of the cast behind Hanks of the project) and it clearly shows on-screen, with his portrayal of Jerry and how his character plays out from to finish in the movie. That being said, Watson still delivers a solid performance as Andrea, with the character being “supportive” of Lloyd situation / dilemma, but also trying shed some light on her husband.
The rest of the cast, including actress Maryann Plunkett (Blue Valentine and The Squid and the Whale) as Fred Roger’s wife, Joanne Rogers, actor Enrico Colantoni (Person of Interest and Veronica Mars) as the President & CEO of Family Communication, Bill Isler, actress Tammy Blanchard (Into the Woods and The Good Shepherd) as Lloyd’s sister, Lorraine, actor Noah Harpster (For All Mankind and Transparent) as Lorraine’s husband, Todd, and actress Wendy Makkena (Sister Act and State of Play) as Jerry’s girlfriend, Dorothy, are in more minor supporting roles, which is perfectly fine as the movie heavily focuses on its Fred and Lloyd as well as the larger supporting characters of Jerry and Andrea. Plus, these acting talents of this grouping are spot on, so nothing to complain about their acting / portrayal of these characters in any way, shape, or form.
We could all use a little kindness and sometimes kindness goes a long way in finding a person’s true core as Lloyd Vogel soon discovers in the movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Director Marielle Heller’s latest film takes the vivid and famed real-life persona of Fred Rogers and cast the imagery into a richly develop story of anger and forgiveness; projecting the makings of a person and the power he / she must endure to find their own personal happiness within themselves. While the movie does falter in a few predictable areas, the film itself is beautiful and offers up plenty of goodness and sincerity, especially thanks to Heller’s direction, the rich script / story, and a solid cast of talents featured (most notably Hanks). Personally, I liked this movie. Like I said, it wasn’t the most “awe-inspiring” or “groundbreaking” movie of the year, but it was quite palpable (like Fred Rogers) in its quieter moments and told a moving story of love and forgiveness. Plus, I absolutely loved Hanks as Rogers. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is a “highly recommended” one as it should be seeing by viewers out there, especially adults of all (the ones who grew up with the show or those individuals who are lost and looking for a special reinforcement within the film’s thematical message). In the end, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is sweet and touching feature that speaks volumes within its wholesome tale and a sincere gesture of cinematic goodwill in tribute to Fred Roger’s endearing legacy of kindness and love.
4.3 Out of 5 (Highly Recommended)
Released On: November 22nd, 2019
Reviewed On: December 12th, 2019
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is 107 minutes long and is rated PG for some strong thematic material, a brief fight, and some mild language