A Beautiful Day In the Neighborhood

Directed By Marielle Heller

Starring – Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Chris Cooper

The Plot – Tom Hanks portrays Mister Rogers in the film. It’s a timely story of kindness triumphing over cynicism, based on the true story of a real-life friendship between Fred Rogers and journalist Tom Junod. After a jaded magazine writer (Rhys) is assigned a profile of Fred Rogers, he overcomes his skepticism, learning about empathy, kindness, and decency from America’s most beloved neighbor.

Rated PG for some strong thematic material, a brief fight, and some mild adult language

POSITIVES

– TV show presentation. I was pleasantly surprised to realize that this movie feels like one big two hour episode of “Mister Rogers Neighborhood”, and not just for the time spent with the legendary titular character, but also for the unique touches of nostalgia that are incorporated into the structure of this movie. This brings forth the single best introduction scene from any movie that I have seen in 2019, outlining what the following 103 minutes are going to entail, all the while whisking us away to this magical land that we experience through sight and sound. On the former, it means these creative transition sequences that, like the show, are depicted through a use of practical miniature sets complete with moving automobiles and airplanes that reflect what is taking place in the foreground of the scene. It’s proof of the faithful experience that Heller and so many have taken with them, and proves that Rogers indulging land is illustrated wonderfully, to give the show life once again.

– Revealing. While straining on what we learn about Fred himself, the movie does disperse a show-and-tell attitude towards the Mister Rogers character, which not only shows his effect on the millions who worship him, but also outline a man whose empathy and selflessness was one of the last in a dying breed. This more than anything proves what is missing from our world today, and gives way to the immense shadow left behind from someone whose legacy is everything that we as humans should strive to be. What made Rogers such an icon for child entertainment was the way he treated kids like actual people, something that a majority of kids movies today still have difficulty maintaining. Through the use of deconstructing, Rogers conveyed the importance of major inevitabilities like death, self-anxieties, and even the barrage of wars that our world was involved in throughout the lifespan of his show. It elaborated on the kind of things that parents often shutter in conveying to their youths, and succeeded because Fred brought with him the experience of being a child, that never withered or diminished with age.

– Tonal balance. It’s hard to narrow the Fred Rogers effect with just one genre labeling, so Heller instead incorporates a satisfying blend of observational humor and dramatic depth that each earn time-and-time again without compromising one or the other. The amount of times I laughed throughout this picture truly surprised me, more times than not outlining the silliness of talking to a puppet commanded by another grown adult, or viewing the Fred Rogers community through the eyes of one of its biggest skeptics. It worked quite consistently in maintaining the light-hearted atmosphere that many of his shows revel in, but had no problem reaching for the tears when the times get tough for a jaded lead character. Dramedies are a rarity in 2019, mostly because one or the other fails in holding its end of the deal, but “A Beautiful Day In the Neighborhood” offers a gentle touch of reality that the whole family can enjoy, and does so while daring you to deny its charms, quite similarly like the effect of spending a half hour with Mister Rogers himself.

– My favorite scene. This takes place with a character deconstructing a hurtful past that has brought forth the person we see and understand before us. What’s so effectively satisfying about this sequence is it’s not only explored audibly from this character admitting painful truths that he’s kept buried deep below, but also visually in a scene that can only be compared to being on drugs while watching “Mister Rogers Neighborhood”. It’s nearly compromising to the consistency of the reality that the film paints so vividly with an air of subtlty, but expresses the kind of mental teleportation that we struggle putting into words when describing the effects of this cherished figure. Heller commands this, and brings us one of the more satisfying, albeit predictable, resolutions seen in a conflict in quite sometime, and does so while magnifying what each of those words and lessons taught by Fred do when we take them with us through every testing time throughout our lives.

– Special effects. These are obviously limited in a very realistic subject like this screenplay has, but the classy touches of Hanks deposit in some real life studio footage better helps immerse us into a show that hasn’t aired new episodes in nearly two decades. Heller is wise enough not to attempt to recreate these famous moments in television time, but rather bring them back to life through the magic of modern day technology, which maintains the scratchy color coordination and video quality, which then runs through Hanks modern day rendering. It comes across as a seamless recreation without a single instance of counterfeit to soil its intention, and crafts some surreal moments of cross-decade influence, which better sell us on Hanks already breathtaking character transformation. The best kind of special effects are often the ones taking place with as little weight as possible to the integrity of the picture, and these few tasteful delves take something that was already there and make it better by making Hanks investment into the scenes all the less stressful in trying to articulate what simply can’t be recreated by today’s technological advancements, which are sometimes great for all of the wrong reasons.

– Dreamy musical score. Marielle makes this as a family affair, casting her musical composer brother Nate as the movie’s maestro, and Nate’s effect here is whimsical without feeling lazy. He channels the same familiarity in show themes and transition numbers, but does so while conjuring up something fresh and unique to experiment with, which brings forth mostly satisfying results. For my money, I would’ve preferred less soft rock songs that the movie does sometimes get slightly carried away with in trying to capture its essence of mood, but when it’s the lyric-less deposits that Nate produces, it cements a feeling that no one was better for the job. My favorite is certainly the closing theme, a bittersweet note of goodbye that serves as a thank you note for Rogers therapeutic charms, all the while reminding us that it’s time to say goodbye. This time felt harder than ever, mainly because Hanks portrayal is so precise in emitting Rogers one more time, but Heller’s underlying emphasis is equally crippling, making us long for the days when answers came in the form of a remote control click.

– Talented cast. This falls on the shoulders of so much more than just Hanks, but there’s no better place to start than the transformation we were all waiting for, which is indeed a success. Hanks channels Rogers with the kind of speech cadence and soft-spoken demeanor that made Fred a gentle spirit, acting as the warm blanket to many kids first introductions to the terrifying world outside of their comfort zones. While looking completely different in facial capacity, it’s clear for the maneurisms that Hanks has done his homework, and brought to life one of the more easily casting no-brainers that I have seen in quite sometime. Beyond Tom, Rhys is also transfixing, emoting through a character with many layers and mental conflicts, which resonates within his introverted approach to the many dynamics that exist within his life. Some people will find this character as a wet blanket, but Matthew’s empathetic approach certainly resonates throughout, and supplants him with a conflict that has no shortage of urgency or vulnerability. It was also great to see Chris Cooper back and doing what he does best; stealing scenes with another extreme character, that despite its many flaws, does feel human in the unapologetic approach that Cooper commands.

– Directing tweaks. Part of what makes Heller the chosen one for this particular story is the influence behind the lens that transcends this as a two-party experience between film and audience that we’re casually used to in film. Instead, Marielle takes no shortage of time establishing us into the influence of these pivotal scenes, using camera movements and character placement to give us what feels like a three-dimensional feel at times. There are scenes that expand slowly once a tempo of dialogue is established and consistently maintained, other scenes with subtle zooming that slowly confines and alludes to the claustrophobia that one particular character is feeling in the isolation of their principles, and a few scenes involving Rhys directly in front of the lens, which gives off the effect that Rogers is equally talking and educating us every bit as much as he is this magazine writer. It highlights the same feel-good positivity that warmed us from Rogers’ gentle demeanor, all the while expanding his lessons far beyond the screen, which makes this a poignantly important film at just the right time.

NEGATIVES

– Bland screenplay. There’s a lot of effects that stem from the cause of Mister Rogers feeling like a supporting character in his own movie, but sadly that is what we’re dealing with here. It’s not that we don’t get enough time with Hanks portrayal, it’s just that it is so good and embodying that you will often find yourself condemning the movie for not getting to spend even more time with this fascinating and nearly mythical human being. Rhys on-going plot is fine enough, but I feel like too many liberties were taken in this approach, and first time learners of Fred will find that this film lacks significant amount of information about Rogers as opposed to its better helmed opposition, like last year’s amazing documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” In addition to this, the story confines its approach to mostly just one man, as opposed to showing the geographical revolution that his impact has had on an entire society. Yes, there are scenes showing Rogers interacting with kids on a subway, or in the studio itself, but like Rhys’ reporter character, we find ourselves struggling to look behind the curtain for answers about the man at home, a quest that unfortunately turns up tedious and unfulfilled efforts time-and-time again.

– Heavy-handed. There are several instances in the film that I wish were kept from feeling desperate, and even at times creepy when seen through the lens of a 2019 reality. For one, Rogers taking pictures of the people he comes into contact with could easily be taken the wrong way. Likewise, calling other people’s wives at 2 O’ clock in the morning, or something as simple as the awkward moments of silence that develop between the two main protagonists could unintentionally spin this movie as a psychological thriller. This is obviously not reality, but nonetheless I did question the certain aspects of Rogers’ movements that I would be lying if I said weren’t unnerving in the slightest. It’s obviously not a big deal because it’s the most gentle man in the world, but sometimes it goes overboard in proving that point.

My Grade: 8/10 or B+

3 thoughts on “A Beautiful Day In the Neighborhood

  1. I am so happy to hear this was done right. Tom Hanks always does an amazing job, but I was hoping they would stay true to Fred Rogers’ character.

  2. I don’t really remember watching Mr Rogers, but of course I know who he was and can hear that calm voice in my head. I can’t imagine anyone but Tom Hanks playing the role. I’m glad it’s not a dud!

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