A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a touching tale of love and forgiveness, bolstered by Hanks' impressive turn as Rogers.
One year after helming Oscar-nominated biopic Can You Ever Forgive Me?, director Marielle Heller returns with another true-story awards hopeful in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, featuring Tom Hanks as beloved children's television host Fred Rogers. That combination of actor and role sounds almost too good to be true on-paper, but much like the real Mr. Rogers, the film offers viewers a delightful and sincere experience that might even be therapeutic. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a touching tale of love and forgiveness, bolstered by Hanks' impressive turn as Rogers.
Rather than being a biopic encompassing Rogers' life and career (like last year's documentary Won't You Be My Neighbor?), A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood instead focuses on cynical investigative journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys). As Esquire preps their upcoming issue on inspirational heroes, Lloyd is assigned to profile Rogers. Initially dismissing the icon as an overly hokey personality, Lloyd gradually realizes there's more to Mr. Rogers than meets the eye. Through his interactions with Rogers, Lloyd may be able to come to terms with his own feelings, including animosity towards his father, Jerry (Chris Cooper).
Heller makes the fascinating choice to use the Mister Rogers' Neighborhood program as a framing device for the movie's proper story, allowing the film to essentially play as a long lost episode intended for adults dealing with anger. The added touch of modeling establishing shots and scene transitions after the show is also nice, giving A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood a charming and offbeat feel that's perfectly in line with its source material. Heller's technical filmmaking is complemented by Micah Fitzerman-Blue & Noah Harpster's script, which covers plenty of rich thematic ground that's applicable to just about anyone in the audience. Though the final destination is fairly predictable and apparent within the film's opening moments (even for those who aren't familiar with the true story it's based on), the journey is still pretty rewarding and contains valuable lessons for life.
Hanks delivers a characteristically strong performance as Mr. Rogers, finding the right balance so that it doesn't come across as an imitation. He's able to dig deeper and tap into Rogers' underlying humanity, showing that even he is not a perfect person and deals with personal pain. Hanks has garnered Best Supporting Actor buzz for his work, and he'd certainly be a deserving nominee. Rhys is also very good as Vogel, never allowing the character to slide into the realm of unlikeable. It'd be easy for audiences to root against someone who's skeptical of Mr. Rogers' wholesomeness, but through Rhys' performance, Lloyd is an empathetic protagonist. The decision to have A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood be his story and detail his personal transformation is smart. The film avoids retreading the documentary, and the narrative is relatable since Lloyd is a more "normal" everyday person than the kindly Mr. Rogers.
With Hanks and Rhys carrying much of the movie, the rest of the cast is a little underserved by comparison. Susan Kelechi Watson and Cooper play two important figures in Lloyd's life as his wife Andrea and estranged father Jerry, respectively, but they're very much relegated to supporting roles. Their characters are a bit clichéd, which minimizes the impact their standard arcs leave. At the same time, Watson and Cooper make the most of what they're given to work with, with the latter in particular giving a heartbreaking performance as a regretful man yearning for forgiveness. The shortcomings with their characters have more to do with the routine trajectory of the screenplay than anything they do onscreen.
Since its world premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood has earned strong word-of-mouth, though the overall Oscar buzz is muted when compared to the other titles in contention. It may not be a Best Picture frontrunner at this point in the race, but that doesn't discount everything else it has to offer. As families get together for Thanksgiving, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is definitely worth a watch, delivering a powerful and relevant message for all viewers - even younger moviegoers who didn't grow up with Mr. Rogers guiding them through childhood. And for those who are familiar with Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, this'll be a sweet tribute to the man's legacy.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is now playing in U.S. theaters. It runs 107 minutes and is rated PG for some strong thematic material, a brief fight, and some mild language.
- A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019) release date: Nov 22, 2019