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A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood – Movie Review

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A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood – Movie Review

Rating: B+ (Very Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Sony Pictures

There’s been a recent resurgence of interest in Mr. Rogers and his eponymous television series for understandable reasons. There’s a strangely calming presence to the way he addressed his viewers and I think most people are in need of that sort of kind attention. Fred Rogers is a presence in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, but the film is not necessarily about him. Instead, it is more focused on the lessons he attempted to teach and how spreading kindness is something that does require some amount of work. Director Marielle Heller understands the right tone in which to tell this story and depicts how Mr. Rogers had an unexpected impact on a journalist he meets.

By focusing on Matthew Rhys’s cynical journalist Lloyd Vogel, the film is able to represent a different point-of-view of Mr. Rogers. By doing this, we get a better understanding of why people welcomed Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood into their lives. Who is this man? Why is he so intent on telling children they are special? Is there something he is hiding behind the nice sweaters? These are legitimate questions swirling around in Lloyd’s head. The film also gives enough time to look into his family history and why he has such a suspicious attitude at everything. Lloyd never comes across as a bad person, just someone dealing with his own anger towards what happened in his life.

When Tom Hanks first appears on screen, it’s easy to see him as just Tom Hanks playing another role. Somehow, as the movie plays on and we spend more time with Mr. Rogers, we see more of Rogers than we do Hanks. Some of the best scenes involve the interactions between Lloyd and the famous children’s show host. Rogers was famous for being genuinely interested in everyone and that comes through in their moments together. When Rogers is explaining his ideas, this is valuable information worth listening to. It’s a credit to Hanks as well as screenwriters Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster that these come across as advice the real Fred Rogers would give.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood also gives enough time to showing the production of Rogers’s show. A lot of attention to detail has been paid by production designer Jade Healy to making sure the set looks accurate. Marielle Heller also cleverly captures the appearance of the television series in certain scenes that has Rogers serving as a narrator telling the story to us. At times, the film even takes on a more surreal quality as we watch the show through Lloyd’s eyes. While artistic license has probably been taken in depicting the series being filmed, those sequences still show all of the hard work that went into each episode. The movie even gives personality to the behind-the-scenes crew who assist and direct Rogers.

A traditional biopic would also have been a worthy route to take, but the approach taken by A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood was probably the better choice. Not only was the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor already released last year, but this allows us to see a different perspective. Lloyd Vogel ends up being just as fascinating a person to follow as Fred Rogers is. He does go through a genuine character growth and learns a lesson we all could use, about how to best bottle up our anger and hurt feelings. It’s not easy being a nice person, especially with the world out there, but it is possible. Heller balances the thematic ideas very well and the result ends up being a rather sweet film.

Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison