We need Mr. Rogers now more than ever. One look at the news not only confirms that, but can easily lead to despair. Last May, when I gave a rave review to the biographical documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, I included this notion on social media: “Television gave us the Kardashians and Trump, but it also gave us Fred Rogers.” The yin to the yang that is the awfulness in this world, Rogers has a special and unsullied place in our culture. To capture him in a narrative film would take an incredibly soft touch. Not every filmmaker could do it. Luckily, everyone involved in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood was more than up to the task. In just a few days, you’ll all be able to see just how amazing it is. This is one of the year’s very best works.
The film is a drama, based on a real friendship that developed between the two main characters. In reality, Fred Rogers and journalist Tom Junod bonded. Here, it’s jaded journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) who finds his world changed by Mr. Rogers (Tom Hanks). A new father with daddy issues of his own, Lloyd is apoplectic when his editor assigns him a small puff piece on Mr. Rogers. An investigative reporter, he’s not used to playing nice. When he meets Rogers, he’s as nice as advertised, which is too good to be true, in Lloyd’s mind. The more they talk, the more legit Rogers becomes to him. Still, Lloyd resists. Slowly, however, the walls come down. As Lloyd overcomes his issues, including with his father (Chris Cooper), he finds himself learning lessons in decency from an icon. Marielle Heller directs a screenplay by Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster. Supporting players, aside from Cooper, include Tammy Blanchard, Enrico Colantoni, Susan Kelechi Watson, Christine Lahti, Maryann Plunkett, and more. Nate Heller composed the score, while cinematography is by Jody Lee Lipes.
I absolutely loved this flick. From Heller’s recreation of the show to Hanks’ pitch perfect interpretation of Rogers, the craftsmanship on display is wonderful. What’s remarkable, however, is the gentle yet forceful way that the story makes a case for empathy. All of the things that Rogers stood for in his life, this cinematic gem puts forward as essential to humanity. It’s never preachy, and even pushes back on these notions at times, but the full heart beating throughout is impossible to resist. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Academy agrees. Watch out for a nomination in Best Picture, as well as a citation for Hanks in Best Supporting Actor.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is the most important movie of 2019, with an absolutely vital message of kindness and understanding. Tom Hanks is a perfect Fred Rogers, Matthew Rhys is an incredibly sympathetic protagonist, and all of Marielle Heller’s creative choices pay huge dividends. The use of silence in one particular scene is amazingly evocative. Then, the final shot hammers home all of its themes in a perfect manner. Furthermore, and on a slightly personal note, this and the aforementioned documentary last year Won’t You Be My Neighbor? has confirmed that I cry on cue whenever Mr. Rogers says he likes me just the way I am. The film is brilliant without it, but that tiny extra bit helped to send me over the edge. He just has that effect on those of us who grew up on his show and life lessons.
This week, audiences who loved Mr. Rogers, as well as those just looking for a heartwarming (and PG) story will be in for one of the year’s very best if they take in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Not only is this Heller’s most complete movie to date, it’s a breakthrough for Rhys, as well as the best work from Hanks in some time. He becomes Rogers. The flick is basically perfect and a must see. We literally need the message of this film right now. One of the crowning achievements of 2019, it’s going to bring a smile to almost anyone who sees it. I can’t recommend this one enough to you all. Open your heart and it will blow you away with its kindness…
Be sure to check out A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, in theaters this weekend!