Movie Review: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is about Lloyd Vogel, a cynical, misanthropic magazine writer, who is assigned to profile Fred Rogers, the creator and star of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Lloyd is also grappling with the reemergence of his absent father and through his conversations with Mr. Rogers, learns to cope with his anger and all of his feelings surrounding his childhood. The film stars Matthew Rhys, Tom Hanks, Susan Kelechi Watson, Maryann Plunkett, Enrico Colantoni, and Chris Cooper. It is directed by Marielle Heller.
Honestly, from first frame to last my face was completely wet with tears. Growing up, I was someone who sought out the validation of my feelings and to see the man who always told me I mattered portrayed so humanely and sincerely just opened up my water works. I'm even tearing up while writing this paragraph. The incredible wonder of this film is it frames itself using the old show format. It's Mr. Rogers telling us the story of Lloyd and his need for an expression of his feelings. The models, the lo-fi cameras, the puppets, the learning and the songs are all there. They all exist to frame this story and it's so well played.
There are many moments in the film where director Marielle Heller takes big swings, but they're big swings that work. Even with the framing device and the use of models, the emotional depth of the narrative is never hindered or held back. The scene that took my breath away is as Fred and Lloyd sit down to lunch and Fred suggests they take a minute of time and think about all the people that love them now. It could have been a scene to cut away, it could have been where Fred and Lloyd are the only ones while everyone else in the restaurant is talking, but no. No, that scene gets silent. It gets very quiet and Fred looks at Lloyd and then he looks at us. He looks into us to help us understand what that love of those people can feel like. I've never seen so brave a move as to have an entire minute of silence in the midst of a narrative. It was brilliant and it was affecting in every way.
Despite its PG rating and largely revolving around a children's entertainer, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood wades into the toughest of the tough subjects and it does it just how Mr. Rogers would do it, with compassion and without judgement. It as a film dares us to feel our feelings to understand our failings as lessons and to dive deep into the psyche of a tortured mind. There is a fabulous dream sequence within that's intensely powerful about the revelations it has for Lloyd. He's seen behind the curtain of the show, but he can never see behind the curtain of Fred because there is no curtain and it takes so long for him to understand that.
The frankness of the art is in the frankness of Fred Rogers. He really only cares about the people around him and the selflessness of caring and communicating with another person. So, while he doesn't dodge Lloyd's leading questions that attempt to find some kind of darker humanity within, he counters those questions to uncover the darkness within Lloyd and break him free of the prison of his emotions. It's a fascinating psychological exercise that Mr. Rogers plays with Lloyd to get him to see his point of view.
Where the details are concerned, though, the film has not forgotten the most important detail of all is in the character. Tom Hanks so beautifully embodies who Fred Rogers was and is to so many people. He has that kindness, the patience and the endless deep empathy of Fred Rogers while also playing out the private thoughts on his face. Hanks is able to bring a depth to a man we all think we know inside and out. He is in great company with the uncanny and spectacular Matthew Rhys as well, but it's Hanks' work that will endure.
As I dry my tears again today, I want to urge you to see this film. See it with your emotionally stunted relative, see it with your estranged friend. See it with someone who needs someone else to listen to them. It's not the movie you expect from the trailer. It's not that straight forward. There are spectacular leaps, but if you grab onto that outstretched hand, this movie will take you to incredible places.