A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

If you need a reminder that we can have good things in this world, all you need to do is spend two hours of your time with this engaging tale of forgiveness and empathy.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is the 2019 movie starring Matthew Rhys and Tom Hanks.

This is a personally impactful film, two hours of cinema that left this writer stunned into submission. Between the performance of Tom Hanks, his portrayal of Mister Rogers, and the emotional arcs of the storyline, there’s a lot to unpack here.

As I described in our August 14 newsletter:

Enter America’s icon of empathy, Mr. Fred Rogers, a role that could have only been played by our other national icon, Tom Hanks. Somehow, he has to put all of these fallen blocks back together again, even though he had never met any of them until the day Lloyd walked into his studio.

The key factor in what makes all of this so special is the fact that they didn’t try to hide Tom behind a facade of prosthetics and make-up. They knew what they had here. It’s Tom Hanks in a red sweater; let him do what he does best.

Make no mistake: every minute of Fred Roger’s screen time is perfect, and his interaction between all of the characters will turn the viewer into one large pile of an emotional mess.

I can state for the record that this writer pretty much breaks down when viewing any clip of this wonderful movie. As of August 2020, I have yet to do a re-watch of this one, but only because I haven’t found the best time to put aside two hours to see it again, with enough recovery time left over to get back to a normal life.”

Here’s my review of this simple, incredibly satisfying movie.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a stunningly unexpected emotional journey, one that tears your heart to shreds and then tries to put it all back together again.

This is not a movie chronicling the life of Fred Rogers. In fact, Fred Rogers portrayed so perfectly by our American icon Tom Hanks is not even the central character of the movie. But one thing is certain, every moment of screen time by this Hanks/Rogers personality is mesmerizing.

This is a family relationship drama, a father-son story that revolves around Lloyd Vogul, played by Matthew Rhys (The Americans), based on the true story of journalist Tom Junod, who wrote this article the November 1998 issue of Esquire magazine. Lloyd is struggling to make his name there, while constantly fighting the inner demons he has to deal with as a result of the toxic relationship with his father.

He is tasked with putting together a puff piece on the life of Fred Rogers. For Lloyd, his cynical nature makes him look at this as an opportunity to find out if this Mr. Rogers persona really is this perfect, unblemished human being.

Sometimes we have to ask for help, and, that’s…..OK.

Directed by Marielle Heller in just her second major film release, this film is brilliantly framed for its audience as if we’re watching an episode of Mister Rogers Neighborhood, complete with set piece changes executed with miniature planes, trains, and automobiles. They are a perfect complement to the ongoing storyline, creating a particular ambiance to the film that puts an almost perpetual smile on your face throughout much of the film.

The movie is filled out by a small but strong cast. The always pitch-perfect Chris Cooper plays the stubborn, obstinate father, and Susan Kelechi Watson successfully takes on the difficult role of Lloyd’s wife. She supports everything he does but realizes her husband has some seriously debilitating father issues. She rightfully questions his state of mind and it’s clear she is very concerned that her husband will not become the successful writer she knows he’s capable of being.

There is an unsung star in this movie that has to be talked about. Enrico Colantoni, a long-time television (Just Shoot Me) and movie veteran, plays Mr. Rogers’ handler. It’s one of those quiet roles where the actor shines in every scene he’s in, and provides the perfect amount of comedy relief, depositing a few moments of levity exactly where and when it’s needed.

One of their exceptional gifts of Fred Rogers was his ability to make every person he meets feel like the most important person on Earth at that time. Tom Hanks conveys this character trait perfectly with his performance throughout the story, regardless of the situation or who he is interacting with.

Everything needed to appreciate the impact of Fred Rogers on our culture, plus the simple, therapeutic beauty of this film, is captured in this perfectly executed scene.