Movie Guru: ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’ deep dives into Mr. Rogers’ impact on one person
‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’
Rated: PG for some strong thematic material, a brief fight, and some mild language
Written by Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster
Directed by Marielle Heller
Starring Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Chris Cooper, Susan Kelechi Watson, Maryann Plunkett, Enrico Colantoni, Wendy Makkena, Tammy Blanchard and more
Grade: Three and a half stars out of four
If you love Mr. Rogers, you’re going to love “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.”
If you want an in-depth look at his life, however, you’ll have to find that elsewhere. The dramatized movie takes something of a sideways look at the legendary television personality, focusing on the effect he had on others. They capture that beautifully, offering a deeply moving look at the impact that Rogers’ genuine love had on even the hardest hearts. It’s showing the shape of a fish through the ripples it makes in the water.
This film is not to be confused with last year’s documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Both will be screening at the Riverwalk of Edwards, the documentary as part of a fundraiser for local early childhood educator Betty Nobles, who lost her home in the Beaver Bench Condo fire last year. Money raised from the one-showing documentary screening on Sunday, Dec. 1, will help restore Nobles’ home, which she still hasn’t been able to move back into. For more information on the fundraiser, visit riverwalktheater.com.
“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” starts exactly like an episode of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” AND then segues into an introduction of a magazine writer named Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys). Vogel has a terrible relationship with his father and a deep suspicion of humanity in general, which means he’s less than thrilled when he’s assigned to interview Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks). Rogers senses that something is wrong and tries to get Vogel to open up, leaving the writer to confront feelings he’s avoided for a long time.
The key to making the entire movie work is Hanks’ performance as Rogers. The two men don’t look much alike physically, but Hanks has perfectly captured Rogers’ mellow yet encompassing welcome. He’s also careful to give Rogers layers, little flashes that make his ability to understand other people’s pain and anger that much more meaningful. As his wife says in one scene, Fred Rogers is no saint. Somehow, though, that makes all the good he does that much more meaningful.
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The movie highlights Hanks’ performance by giving him the perfect framework. The entire movie is structured like an episode of the show, with Rogers introducing us to some of his friends and talking about anger. The model town he had set up is recreated and expanded in exquisite detail for all of the location transitions. If you loved “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” when you were a kid, you’ll be instantly transported back to your childhood.
Even if you didn’t, it’s entertaining to watch Vogel fall under his spell. Rhys is a master at portraying the internal suffering of his characters, and he gets plenty of opportunity with Vogel. The family stuff is more classically gut-wrenching, but it’s more entertaining watching him try to resist Rogers. You can see his world view being flipped upside down as he starts believing almost against his will.
If you’re looking for a deeper dive into Rogers’ actual life, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” does a fantastic job. If you want a poetic, heartfelt meditation on the power that Rogers could have on a single person, watch “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.”
An even better idea is to watch both of them, then go back and watch episodes of the original show. The world needs every opportunity to celebrate Mr. Rogers.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.