An average day in the neighbourhood.
Full disclosure, I have never seen an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood (1968 – 2001). Personally, I was more of a Zoboomafoo (1999 – 2001) man myself. However, I’m more than aware of how great an impact the show’s host, Fred Rogers, left on his legion of fans around the world. The beacon of optimism and joy that Mr. Rogers has come to be known as is legendary. So, when I went to see A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019), I was excited to learn more about the life and career of the iconic entertainer. Oh boy, were the life and career of Mr. Rogers not at all what this movie was about. Don’t get me wrong it was still very well done and infinitely delightful, but I still can’t help but feel slightly lied to. The story I got was nothing like the story I was expecting.
Based on a true story, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood follows Lloyd Vogel, a pessimistic journalist for Esquire who is assigned to profile famed television host, Mr. Rogers. At the same time, Vogel is struggling with being a new father and the strained relationship between himself and his own father. Though skeptical of Rogers’ philosophy of kindness and understanding, Vogel finds his outlook on life transformed through just a few brief meetings with everybody’s favourite neighbour.
You guys, I have to admit that I’m a tad disappointed. I was really looking forward to expanding my Mr. Rogers-related knowledge and yet, after almost two hours, I’m none the wiser. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood succeeds at capturing the tone and charm of both Rogers and his show but does little in showing us why Rogers is the man that he is. From time to time the movie would touch on details of Rogers’ life and I would think to myself, “great, now we’re getting into it!” But then Rogers is demoted to secondary character status while the stale storyline of Vogel and his absent father is given the spotlight. Seriously, a solid 90 per cent of the movie is dedicated to Vogel family drama. Sure, I suppose that the movie was never explicitly advertised as a Rogers biopic so that’s on me for expecting it to be one. Still, I can’t believe that the story of Lloyd Vogel, in which Mr. Rogers shows up from time to time to guide him through short therapy sessions, was deemed more interesting than a straightforward biopic. It’s a shame that the less enlightening story was given a majority of the movie’s runtime. That being said, when you have Tom Hanks in the starring role, you’re guaranteed a pleasurable viewing experience regardless of subject matter.
At this point in his career, Tom Hanks has become THE name in Hollywood to turn to when you need someone to play an influential American icon. He’s played everyone from Captain Richard Phillips, to Chesley Sullenberger, to Walt Disney himself. Watching Hanks step into the cardigan and sneakers of the beloved television host, there isn’t a doubt in my mind that he’ll be nominated for some type of award for his performance. Hanks brings Rogers to life with a winning combination of whimsy and depth, delivering a portrayal that you can’t help but be intrigued by. This is a performance that radiates joy. Hanks is perfection. There are times when you’re watching him in a scene and his technique is so flawless, that you’ll swear you’re watching the real Mr. Rogers. It’s amazing that now, even decades into his career, Hanks’ skill as an actor shows no signs of waning. Undoubtedly the best part of an otherwise basic movie, I recommend seeing A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood for the talent and charisma of Tom Hanks alone.
Rounding out the supporting cast are Matthew Rhys and and Chris Cooper ad Lloyd Vogel and his father Jerry, respectively. The pair share a great chemistry and their acting is on point, but once again, I couldn’t help myself from being less than enthused to be watching their drama. I wanted so much more Tom Hanks / Mr. Rogers wonderfulness! Oh, speaking of wonderfulness, Susan Kelechi Watson plays Lloyd’s wife Andrea and although it’s a small part…Watson knocks it out of the park. She’s always been my favourite character on This Is Us (2016 – present), effortlessly combining bold dramatics with subtle comedy. As Andrea, she exudes the same natural talent.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is not a bad movie. You can tell the amount of research, passion and work that director Marielle Heller put into the project. Delightfully optimistic and sunny, it’s sure to satisfy and enchant anyone who grew up in a home where Rogers was constantly on their television screen. There are multiple scenes in the movie that you can tell are there for the enjoyment of Rogers’ hardcore fans, small details and inside jokes that audiences will only get if they’re familiar with the teachings of the famed host.
Hanks’s performance is the best part of a movie that while great in terms of actual filmmaking, manages to not be particularly exciting or interesting. Again, I chock it up to the movie’s bizarre decision to focus more on Vogel than the easily more captivating subject in Rogers. Perhaps the overall point of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is to show how one extraordinary man had the power to change the lives of everyone he met. If that’s the case, than Heller succeeds with flying colours. Though the actual plot of the movie is somewhat ho-hum, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is worth watching for the heartwarming way its messages of love and peace will make your heart soar. Couple that with Hanks’ flawless portrayal and you have two solid reason to see this movie. Go ahead. It’ll make for a beautiful viewing experience.
Did you watch Mr. Rogers growing up?
Let me know in the comments or on social media!