Movie Review: ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’
There’s no actor out there who projects more innate warmth than Tom Hanks. He’s a man whose smile lights up a room, whose voice sounds like that of an old friend. In a stroke of casting genius, Hanks plays Mister Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. The result: The closest a movie has come to providing spiritual rejuvenation in as long as I can remember.
Inspired by Tom Junod’s 1998 article “Can You Say…Hero?”, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is not a Fred Rogers biopic. In fact, he’s not even the protagonist. Rather, the film is centered around Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), a cynical journalist who has a reputation for eviscerating his interview subjects. When Lloyd is assigned to write a fluff piece on Mister Rogers for an Esquire series on heroes, he dives in with his pencil sharpened, ready to uncover the dark side of the beloved TV personality. Instead, he finds a true and lasting friend in Fred, who reminds him that a little kindness goes a long way.
Directed by the wonderful Marielle Heller, who helmed one of the best films of 2018 with Can You Ever Forgive Me?, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a movie that wears its sappiness on its sleeve. And yet its willingness to make you cry never feels mawkish or insincere.
Lloyd is a character who has lost his faith in the idea that people are generally good at heart. His long simmering resentments towards his father Jerry (Chris Cooper), who abandoned his family when his mother got sick, come to a head when Jerry reappears in his life desperate to make amends. It goes without saying that stories about estranged fathers and sons learning to accept one another is nothing new. Nor is that of the skeptical journalist being inspired by his unlikely subject. The fact that Heller takes these two been-there-done-that story threads and weaves them together to create something fresh and memorable is an achievement in and of itself.
Like Mister Rogers’ show, this film is a gentle and heartfelt reminder that your feelings matter. Operating like a feature length Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood episode specifically for adults, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood knows it has walls it needs to break down. Like Lloyd, many a viewer may have a sensitive sentimentality trigger. Heller knows this, and her film breaks down our defenses by being keenly self-aware while employing imaginative visual and narrative tricks that catch us off guard. For an hour and 49 minutes, it’s once again okay for us to turn to Mister Rogers to learn how to deal with our feelings.
And then there’s Tom Hanks. While physically he may not be the spitting image of Mister Rogers, he nails his genial mannerisms in a way that makes it hard not to get emotional. From the first scene of the film — which opens on Hanks reenacting the iconic intro of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood — we’re putty in both his and Heller’s hands. Mister Rogers had a way of speaking – slowly, deliberately, thoughtfully – that made you hang on his every word. With a lilting, soft vocal quality, Hanks makes every line of dialogue feel like something important. But more than that, he makes us feel important…just the way we are.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood opens in South Florida movie theaters on November 22. For showtimes, click here.
Lauren Cohen was born and raised in Miami Beach and graduated from the University of Miami with a bachelor’s degree in Motion Pictures. She has been writing about film since 2009, with her movie reviews and features appearing regularly in Examiner.com and Miami Beach News, among others. She’s interviewed some of the most recognizable faces in the film industry, including Daniel Craig, Emma Stone, Channing Tatum, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Javier Bardem. An avid supporter of the arts, Lauren also works with the Miami Film Festival to promote the best of world cinema to the Miami community.