Every once in a while, a film comes along that seems to speak to a generation in times of need. Easy Rider embracing the beauty of America in the late ‘60s could be interpreted as a response to the nation’s confusion about Vietnam; shortly after the Watergate scandal, Star Wars reminded us that heroes and happy endings can still happen; Spider-Man bore patriotic colors and a love for New York that people needed to see after 9/11; and now, it appears as though Mr. Rogers himself has returned to remind our generation the importance of kindness with A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.
The true story follows Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys of The Post), an Esquire reporter known for his cynical and jaded writing style. Lloyd is also a pretty closed-off person, but when his editor assigns him to interview children’s television show host Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks) for an inspirational piece about heroes, Lloyd scoffs at the very notion…but his continued interactions with Rogers begin to open Lloyd up in an emotionally healing way.
If you’re like most people, then the first detail that likely attracted you to this film is Tom Hanks. Hanks is a legendary and beloved actor, adored by fans, critics, and Oscar voters alike. But how does he do in portraying such an iconic figure of pop culture? Hanks absolutely transforms himself into the role of Mr. Rogers, embodying his voice, mannerisms, and personality in harmony with each other (he even nails the voice of Daniel Tiger). I’d be pretty shocked if he didn’t receive a sixth Oscar nomination for this one. Unsurprisingly, Hanks steals the show, but he’s not the central protagonist of the story, so don’t be disappointed if you’re expecting a story centered on Mr. Rogers.
The story’s true protagonist is Lloyd, and it’s a wise choice to make Rogers the mentor figure rather than the main character. By making the audience’s point of view be from a character who is naturally skeptical of others, the movie formulates a clever way to answer the question that a lot of people have probably asked themselves: is Mr. Rogers really as sweet and endearing as he appears on the show, or is it all just an act? The answer is an unquestioning conviction that “Mr. Rogers” isn’t just a character that Fred plays for the camera, and Lloyd’s slow-but-sure understanding of this conclusion makes for a greatly emotional performance.
Fans of This Is Us will recognize Susan Kelechi Watson as Lloyd’s wife, Andrea, whose nostalgic admiration for Mr. Rogers is an entertaining contrast to Lloyd’s outlook; and Chris Cooper gives a good performance in a role that I don’t want to give away too much about.
When it comes to visual aspects such as editing and cinematography, they’re integral to the construction of a film, but they normally don’t stand out to me unless they’re really good or really bad. Sometimes I try to keep an eye out for little camera details so that I don’t miss something, but in the case of this film, I got so engrossed in the emotions of the story that it hadn’t even occurred to me to pay attention to much else. This isn’t a movie that relies on fancy editing or ambitious shots to sell itself, but rather the simple beauty of its story. It’s the kind of film whose sincerity hooks you right in and stands up to the test of being disingenuous, and as I said earlier, I honestly think that its messages of kindness and acceptance are packaged and addressed personally to the year of 2019. There’s really not much else I can say about this one without treading into spoilers, so I would enthusiastically recommend that you see it for yourself. Just be sure to bring tissues. And while you’re at it, I say make it a double feature and after seeing this film, go home and rent the documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Both films compliment each other beautifully. As for this film, I give A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood four out of four stars.