Time: 109 Minutes
Age Rating: Medium level violence
Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers
Matthew Rhys as Lloyd Vogel
Susan Kelechi Watson as Andrea Vogel
Chris Cooper as Jerry Vogel
Director: Marielle Heller
Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) is an investigative journalist who receives an assignment to profile Fred Rogers, aka Mr. Rogers (Tom Hanks). He approaches the interview with skepticism, as he finds it hard to believe that anyone can have such a good nature. But Roger’s empathy, kindness and decency soon chips away at Vogel’s jaded outlook on life, forcing the reporter to reconcile with his own painful past.
I never really grew up with Mr Rogers but last year I really got to learn about him from the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, a movie I highly recommend checking out. I was then aware of a movie being made about him (this one), I like Tom Hanks and I like the director Marielle Heller, there were some talented people involved. However I didn’t really know what to expect from it. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a lot better than what I thought it would be, and it’s quite great overall.
First of all, I have to say that the marketing for this movie was poor and misleading. It made it look like the most basic version of a Mr Rogers movie you could possibly make, and was misrepresentative of the movie. It made Rogers look like the focus of the movie, and while he plays a big part, it’s not really his story. This movie is about the journalist who goes to interview Fred Rogers, and it’s his story. You can tell pretty early on that this isn’t the absolute feel good movie of the year the trailers have been portraying it as, in fact it’s a little more mature and serious than you might think it would be. However ultimately it’s a heartwarming movie, and is genuinely touching and personal. There are some important messages in there that aren’t just surface level. You don’t need to even know who Mr Rogers is to love the movie, he’s definitely portrayed as how he’s usually seen, but it never loses sight of what story it’s trying to tell.
Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers was a simultaneously fitting and rather boring casting choice for Fred Rogers. While he is talented for sure, the casting made me feel like he was cast also because he was really likable. However this is Hanks’s best performance in a while, he’s truly great here. Sure he doesn’t really look like Rogers at all, but he completely embodies the spirit and character of him, and he’s really compelling. It could’ve been so easy for him to just be an impression of the real man, but Hanks managed to keep him seem human and grounded. As I said before though, this movie isn’t about Fred Rogers, it’s about the character of Lloyd Vogel, played by Matthew Rhys. I haven’t seen Rhys in really anything but he impresses here as an incredibly cynical person who’s outlook in life slowly changes after his meetings with Fred Rogers. Other supporting performances like Susan Kelechi Watson as Llyod’s wife and Chris Cooper as his father also work very well.
I’ve liked Marielle Heller’s work from Diary of a Teenage Girl to Can You Ever Forgive Me?, and she definitely shows herself once again to be a director to really pay attention to. On paper you wouldn’t think that it would just be directed in a standard way, but Heller makes some certain choices that pay off and really stand out in a great way. The film opens with seemingly a recreation of Mr Rogers episode, but it then it actually makes this movie look like it’s one whole Mr Rogers episode. And it’s not just in the bits where you see Hanks’s Rogers on screen performing on the show, some of the exterior shots of the actual movie are recreated with the miniature models used in the show. On top of that, from watching the documentary I was pretty familiar with the setup for the filming of the show, and the models, props, aspect ratio of the camera and overall look of the recreation of the scenes were on point. I think there was one dream sequence that came across a little too weird for its own good, but it doesn’t take away too much from the movie, it’s just that when it initially appears it really takes you out of it briefly.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is sincere, heartfelt and wonderfully compelling, Marielle Heller’s direction is unique and elevated the movie even further, and the performances from Matthew Rhys and Tom Hanks are great. It’s a surprising biopic that’s a lot more than it initially appears to be. Don’t let the weak trailers sway you, it’s definitely worth seeing.