A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD
BY CHRISTOPHER HASKELL
NOVEMBER 22, 2019
“Please don’t ruin my childhood.”— Andrea Vogel (Susan Kelechi Watson)
Sometimes less is more, but not in the case of “A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood.” Tom Hanks captures the quirk and gravitas of the iconic Mister Rogers so perfectly. The only problem is, I wanted more. When you have a high profile actor like Hanks taking on the enormous role of Fred Rogers, that’s what you want to see. Director Marielle Heller chose to keep Hanks at bay, stating that Rogers “doesn’t have the dynamic nature you need for a protagonist for a movie.” She considered him “the antagonist” of the story, as he comes into Lloyd’s life and “flips it upside down through his philosophy and the way he lived his life.”
That’s not to say Matthew Rhys doesn’t hold his own in the leading role. He plays Lloyd Vogel, an award-winning journalist known for tearing down public figures. When he’s assigned to write a profile on Fred Rogers, he sets out to find what’s behind the cheery facade of the TV personality. But instead of uncovering any dark truths about Mister Rogers, the tables are turned, and Rogers ends up revealing the truth behind Lloyd’s own unhappiness. As Lloyd enters into fatherhood for the first time and begins the grieving process for his ailing father, Rogers shines a light on the stoicism surround Lloyd’s life. The lessons he teaches on his PBS show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” begin to echo in Lloyd’s own life.
Lloyd’s wife, Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson), and father, Jerry (Chris Cooper), both end up being touched by the kindness that Fred bestows upon Lloyd throughout their interview. The friendship that grows between Lloyd and the eternally hopeful Rogers rings entirely true. Following the 2018 documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” you really get a sense for Rogers as a person, both through archival footage and interviews with family, friends, and co-workers. The picture is painted of this serene, kindhearted man. Hanks embodies that and then some, turning this otherwise bleak drama into something more enthralling. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the character study I had hoped it might be.
November 22, 2019
“Can You Say… Hero?” by Tom Junod
(for some strong thematic material, a brief fight, and some mild language)
Jody Lee Lipes
Susan Kelechi Watson