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A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (A Movie Review)

Updated: Feb 18, 2020

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood


Starring Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Susan Kelechi Watson, Chris Cooper, Enrico Colantoni, Maryann Plunkett, Tammy Blanchard, Wendy Makkena, Sakina Jaffrey, Noah Harpster, Carmen Cusack, Kelley Davis, Christine Lahti, Maddie Corman, Daniel Krell, Jon L Peacock, Gretchen Koerner, Spencer Lott and Jessica Hecht.

Screenplay by Micah Fitzerman-Blue & Noah Harpster.

Directed by Marielle Heller.

Distributed by TriStar Pictures. 107 minutes. Rated PG.

Did you see the Mr. Rogers’ documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? I did, and I loved it. Watching the story of American hero Fred Rogers was inspirational and heart felt.

I love Tom Hanks as an actor. However, frankly, after the documentary, I was pretty turned off by the idea of an actor portraying of a man so well loved, telling a story that has already been show in the real footage documentary.

When the first scene of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood started, and Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers walked onto the set, my heart sank. I knew I wasn’t going to like this, even after our special World Kindness Day screening was led off by the real Mrs. Rogers speaking into the camera, telling the audience that Fred would have loved Tom in this role. No way.

The scene kept rolling. Hanks starts the song, opens the closet, takes off his jacket and puts on the cardigan. All I see is Forrest Gump. I am so sad.

Then it all changes. And it is so very good. It becomes an art house film, shown through the lens of an episode of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. I loved it. My plus one loved it. He messaged me for days after to say how much the movie affected him.

I don’t want to give away the magic, but it definitely took me by surprise.

The story is based on the real-life journalist Tom Junod, who wrote the piece “Can you say… Hero?” for the November 1998 issue of Esquire magazine. What was supposed to be a 400-word profile blossomed into an iconic piece, written by a hardened investigative journalist whose difficult reputation preceded him. A meet and greet, fit-into-a-tight-time-slot interview became a series of conversations and meetings that blossomed into friendship. It’s a beautiful story of growth and the power of kindness in action.

This is NOT a film for small children. While all our favorite childhood characters are there (Daniel Tiger, Lady Elaine, King Friday), they are used to tell the story of Junod. He is portrayed as the character Lloyd Vogel (played by Matthew Rhys). He is an investigative journalist, husband to Andrea (played by Susan Kelechi Watson), first-time new father, and wrestling with his relationship with his own estranged father, Jerry Vogel (played by Chris Cooper).

Needless to say, it is a challenging time for Lloyd, professionally and personally. His assignment to interview Fred Rogers couldn’t have come at a worse or better time. It feels like a case of “everything happens for a reason.”

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a fascinating character study of both the “hero” and the cynic. Vogel probes to get a rise out of Rogers, looking for any tell, any character flaw – proof that he is not the man he claims to be. The beauty is in the response. Rogers was never perfect, but it is the humble admittance of this lack of perfection that rises him to the level of hero in the public eye. And Hanks really captures it all.

This film is weird and beautiful, melancholy and uplifting, yin and yang… much like Lloyd Vogel and Fred Rogers.

Sometimes you need to be reminded of the power of giving your full attention to a person, to truly be in the moment, how just the simple act of being present can change the world. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a gift to audiences this holiday season.

Bonnie Paul

Copyright ©2019 All rights reserved. Posted: November 22, 2019.

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