Movie Review: One of a kindness
“A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood” is an odd little film.
On the one hand, it’s been perceived as a biopic of Latrobe, Westmoreland County, native Fred Rogers (1928 - 2003), host of “Mister Rogers Neighborhood” (1968 - 2001), produced by WQED, Pittsburgh, and telecast on Public Broadcasting Television stations.
On the other hand, the film is not a Fred Rogers biopic.
While I may have been one of the moviegoers expecting a biopic along the lines of the excellent documentary film, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” (2018), directed by Morgan Neville (Oscar recipient, “20 Feet From Stardom,” 2013), which chronicled the personal life and career of Fred Rogers,“ this is not that film.
That’s OK, to a point.
“A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood” is more of a melodrama about hard-boiled journalist Tom Junod, two-time National Magazine Awards recipient from the American Society of Magazine Editors, who interviewed Fred Rogers for a 1998 Esquire magazine article, “Can You Say … Hero?” Junod, who became friends with Rogers, appeared in the documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”
The screenplay is by Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster (co-screenwriters, “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” 2019) for “A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood,” directed by Marielle Heller (director of the compelling drama also based on real-life characters, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” 2018, which received three Oscar nominations: actress, Melissa McCarthy; supporting actor, Richard E. Grant; adapted screenplay, Nicole Holofcener, Jeff Whitty).
In “A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood,” journalist Junod is renamed Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys, Emmy recipient, 2018, TV’s “The Americans,” 2013-2018).
In “A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood,” Vogel is depicted as reluctant to interview Rogers and initially obstinate in resisting Rogers’ own questioning of Vogel’s life.
Vogel is shown in the film as having gotten into a fistfight with his father, Jerry (Chris Cooper, supporting actor Oscar recipient, “Adaptation,” 2002), at the wedding reception of Vogel’s sister, Lorraine (Tammy Blanchard).
The illness of Vogel’s father and the testy relationship of Vogel and his father, as well as the tension-filled marriage of Vogel and his wife, Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson, Screen Actors Guild ensemble recipient, 2018, 2019, TV’s “This Is Us,” 2016-2020), form the basis of the plot.
“A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood” is not so beautiful in terms of Vogel’s personality nor his frayed relationships with his father, his wife and Rogers.
It’s also not so beautiful in the look of the film, which is desaturated, almost drab in appearance, with washed-out browns, blues and grays in scenes, costumes and characters, with the notable exception of the bright red cardigan sweater Mister Rogers dons at the beginning of each episode of his TV show.
Director Heller and the screenwriters cleverly use the miniature set of the “Neighborhood of Make-Believe” to ease the storyline on down the road. It’s akin to a three-dimensional Google Maps. The effect is surrealistic, with, in one scene, Vogel reduced in size to the miniature people of the “Neighborhood of Make-Believe.”
There’s no mistaking Tom Hanks in the role of Fred Rogers. What other movie star could have played Rogers?
One can’t imagine anyone other than five-time Oscar nominee (actor Oscar recipient, “Forrest Gump,” 1995, and “Philadelphia,” 1994) Hanks as Mister Rogers.
Among his 91 theatrical movie and television show roles, “A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood” is at least the eighth theatrical feature film in which Hanks has portrayed a real-life person, including Washington Post newspaper editor Ben Bradlee, “The Post” (2017); Airline pilot Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger, “Sully“ (2016); Atty. James B. Donovan, “Bridge Of Spies” (2015); Walt Disney, “Saving Mr. Banks” (2013); cargo freighter Captain Richard Phillips, “Captain Phillips” (2013); Congressman Charlie Wilson, “Charlie Wilson’s War“ (2007), and Astronaut Jim Lovell, “Apollo 13” (1995).
Hanks is a cinematic chameleon, disappearing into the role of Rogers. It’s not just the red sweater.
As with his other roles, you realize you’re watching Hanks, yet his vocal inflections (Rogers’ cozy, relaxing, slow-talking style is akin to Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, or ASMR), facial expressions and body language are so realistic that you think you’re watching Mr. Rogers.
Hanks is aided by the wise decision by director Heller to slow things down, so much so that there are pauses in scenes, silent moments of no dialogue, with Hanks as Rogers looking at Rhys as Vogel in a back and forth of wordless communication and understanding.
This renders “A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood” a kind of meditative exercise in the observations, tenants and philosophy of Mr. Rogers about kindness, coping and forgiveness.
My introduction to “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” was much rougher, by way of Eddie Murphy’s hilarious spoof playing Mr. Robinson in “Mister Robinson’s Neighborhood” in nine sketches on “Saturday Night Live” (1981-1984).
“A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood” begins with the keyboard and vibraphone opening notes of the TV show theme song. The movie-goer is mesmerized. The movie is a lullaby for adults.
“A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood” provides an insightful look into the life of a hot-shot, self-possessed, narcissistic journalist who let his guard down long enough to become one of the people who are in the neighborhood. You may recognize him.
And after you depart the movie theater, your neighborhood and the world may look more like the’ “Neighborhood of Make-Believe.”
“A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood,” MPAA Rated PG (Parental Guidance Suggested Some material may not be suitable for children. Parents urged to give “parental guidance.” May contain some material parents might not like for their young children.) for some strong thematic material, a brief fight, and some mild language; Genre: Biography, Drama; Run time: 1 hr., 49 min. Distributed by Sony Pictures.
Credit Readers Anonymous: At the end of “A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood,” the real Fred Rogers is shown singing a song he wrote, “You Did It.” The film was shot on location in Pittsburgh, including the WQED TV studios. Tom Hanks and Fred Rogers are reportedly sixth-cousins.
Box Office, Dec. 20-22: “Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker” took it to a whole new level with one of the longest movie titles for the 2019 holiday season, opening with $175.5 million, dropping “Jumanji: The Next Level” one place from its one-week perch at No. 1 to No. 2 with $26.1 million, $101.9 million, two weeks, as “Frozen II” dropped one place to No. 3 with $12.3 million, $386.5 million, five weeks, and the Computer Generated Imagery movie version of the musical, “Cats,” tip-toed in on little cats’ feet, opening “bomb-bastically” at No. 4 with only $6.5 million, with an “improved” version of the movie said to be on its way to movie theaters.
5. “Knives Out” dropped two places, $6.1 million, $89.5 million, four weeks. 6. “Bombshell” moved up 13 places, $5 million, $5.4 million, two weeks. 7. “Richard Jewell” dropped three places, $2.5 million, $9.5 million. 8. “Queen & Slim” dropped one place, $1.8 million, $36.5 million, four weeks. 9. “Black Christmas” dropped four places, $1.8 million, $7.2 million, two weeks. 10. “Ford v Ferrari” dropped four places, $1.8 million, $101.9 million, six weeks. 11. “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” dropped three places, $1.3 million, $52.4 million, five weeks.
Unreel, Dec. 27:
“1917,” R: Sam Mendes directs Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Firth, Andrew Scott and Richard Madden in the World War I Drama. Two young British soldiers must deliver a message in enemy territory.
“Little Women,” PG: Greta Gerwig directs Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Laura Dern, Meryl Streep, Timothée Chalamet and Florence Pugh in the Romantic Drama. Four sisters grow up in America after the Civil War. The screenplay in based on the Louisa May Alcott novel.
“Spies in Disguise,” PG: Nick Bruno and Troy Quane direct the animation feature film with the voice talents of Karen Gillan, Rachel Brosnahan, Tom Holland, Will Smith, Rashida Jones, Reba McEntire and DJ. Khaled. The world’s top spy is transformed into a pigeon.
“Just Mercy,” PG-13: Destin Daniel Cretton directs Brie Larson, Jamie Foxx, Michael B. Jordan and Tim Blake Nelson in the Drama. It’s based on a memoir by Atty. Bryan Stevenson who appealed the murder conviction of Walter McMillian.