A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is being sold as a biopic of iconic entertainer Fred Rogers, a fictional version of last year’s excellent documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? But this isn’t a biopic, at all. Neighbourhood actually is a family melodrama that occasionally guest stars Mr. Rogers. Credit should be given to the filmmakers for doing something different with the occasionally stuffy “inspired by true events” format film. Still, this isn’t what one would expect from the ads and trailers that are so heavily focused on Mr. Rogers, heck there’s a fistfight in the opening act. There’s a solid supporting performance here from Tom Hanks as Rogers but the movie will land depending if one is sympathetic with the lead character’s family crisis. This is a movie that is made for Award Seasons as it dutifully goes through emotional angst from people who aren’t Rogers, but there’s a couple decent curveballs and genuinely happy emotion that should make the most bitter cynic smile.
Lloyd (Matthew Rhys) is a journalist for Esquire who usually does hard–hitting investigative journalism but his editor has assigned him to get 400 words about Mr. Rogers (Hanks). He is also dealing with an absentee father, Jerry (Chris Cooper) who has come barging back into his life which really only made Lloyd take a swing at him. While Lloyd’s wife Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson) frets about Lloyd’s emotional state and their newborn, Lloyd’s interviews with Rogers help the cynic learn to be loving and deal with his emotions. Assuming that Rogers predilection for puppetry doesn’t get on Lloyd’s nerves.
Making Lloyd the central character provides an interesting perspective but it’s a bit of a downer as Lloyd’s family melodrama seems cliché. Hanks’ performance as Rogers is so compelling that the wind goes out of the movie whenever Rogers leaves. The movie throws in a nice swerve where it begins with Rogers walking out in his traditional opening and then he reveals pictures of his friends and one of them is a close up of Lloyd looking beat up, telling the audience who the movie is going to be about. Rhys sells burnt out reporter and one of his best line deliveries is when he is talking to Rogers’ wife and asks her “What is it like being married to a living saint?”
The best thing about Lloyd being cynical is that sometimes Rogers can be a bit much so Rhys’ incredulous reactions are great. Being in Rogers’ orbit starts to mess with Lloyd’s head and in one of the movie’s funniest scenes he has a dream about being stuck as a tiny figure on Rogers’ stage. There’re some funny bitter gags about show producers who want to start filming but Rogers is so insistent upon everyone getting attention that it drags down the start with one of the producers quipping “We can’t fire him, can we?” The recreation of Rogers’ set is incredibly accurate and the movie nails the tone of the Rogers’ Neighborhood segments perfectly.
There isn’t an elaborate makeup job for Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers; he’s just wearing a wig and some fake eyebrows. But he nails the vocal delivery perfectly, maybe a bit too well as sometimes his lines have such a slowness it can drag scenes to a halt. What is interesting are smaller moments where extremely subdued emotional nuance and sadness plays across his face. Rogers says that one can extract their angry emotions in non–violent ways, like playing the low keys on a piano all at once. This is a set up for one moment when Rogers bangs the piano keys, which speaks emotional volumes.
Sometimes the movie breaks the fourth wall by directly addressing the audience much as Rogers did on the show, like where Rogers says to take a minute to contemplate the people who loved you into being that has Rogers looking directly at the camera. The movie is unabashedly presenting Rogers as a modern–day saint which can be a bit heavy handed. The documentary from 2018 does a better job of showing the emotional core of Rogers, here he just shows up as a magic fix for another person’s crisis.
While Hanks’ supporting performance is channelling a real person, Cooper’s role seems Best Supporting Actor bait as he goes through being a drunken reprobate who is trying to do right by his son while he has an incurable Movie Disease that makes everyone sad. Cooper is a fantastic actor who can add menace or comedy to just about anything and while his role of bad dad is pretty standard he still throws in some interesting bits. The emotional story about mending the relationship between father and son is a bit by the numbers to be truly engaging. Even Watson as the wife basically just juggles their baby and makes concerned noises about Lloyd’s emotional state.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood does provide a look at Fred Rogers’ sunny outlook from the perspective of a bitter outsider who is slowly warmed by Rogers’ joyful ways. At the movie’s best moments, it has the tone of Rogers perfectly while telling the audience everyone is special. Too bad it’s wrapped around an Oscar bait family melodrama that sometimes gets in the way of delivering Mister Rogers’ good vibes. V
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Director: Marielle Heller
Starring: Tom Hanks,
Matthew Rhys and