A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood Movie Review
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood stars Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, and Susan Kelechi Watson, and was directed by Marielle Heller. It tells the story of journalist Lloyd Vogel, played by Matthew Rhys and based on the real-life Tom Junod, who gets assigned to write a profile of Fred Rogers, played by Tom Hanks. Over the course of their many meetings, Lloyd learns just how applicable Mister Rogers’ messages can be. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood was not at all what I expected, but it still managed to be what I wanted. Going into this movie, I anticipated something more along the lines of a traditional biopic. Maybe not an exploration of Mister Rogers’ whole life, but at least tackling his later years with the subplot of a journalist writing an article serving as the framework for telling that story. But, that’s not at all what this is.
This isn’t a biopic. It’s not even really about Mister Rogers. I mean, it is but not in the way you’d expect. It’s not about this life, or the show, or even the man himself. It’s about what he represents. About what he meant (and still means) to so many people. And about the effect and impact he had on those peoples’ lives. Mister Rogers is more than just a man. He’s an idea and a guiding force for how to live your life. A lot of people have very specific and clear memories of him and his show, so there’s certainly a lot of Mister Rogers nostalgia out there.
I was around at the tail-end of his PBS reign and I’d watch the show occasionally in the early 90s, but I don’t have any specific memories of it. It’s more a general positive feeling; this sense of goodness and wholesomeness. And so even though I don’t have any direct nostalgia for the show, I can still feel the Mister Rogers effect. And that’s what this movie’s about. A Mister Rogers film, biopic or not, would not work without Mister Rogers. And Tom Hanks is Mister Rogers. He doesn’t just do a good job imitating Mister Rogers or pretending to be him; he becomes Mister Rogers. He doesn’t look like him or even sound all that close to him, but he is Mister Rogers. Tom Hanks melts into the role.
There are several recreations of archival interviews that you might’ve seen in Won’t You Be My Neighbor and Hanks is spot-on with them. It’s funny actually cause we get a brief midcredits scene featuring the real Mister Rogers singing a song and he sounds weird cause, at that point, we’ve accepted that Tom Hanks is truly Mister Rogers. As far as the actual story goes (once you realize it’s not a Mister Rogers biopic), it’s pretty much what you’d expect it to be. In other words, it’s predictable. I know that saying a movie’s predictable typically has negative connotations, but I really don’t think that it’s a bad thing here. It’s satisfying in its predictability. We have the character of Lloyd Vogel who’s the stereotypical ultra-cynical, angry, grudge-holding skeptic, and then we’ve got Mister Rogers who’s well, Mister Rogers.
I mean, what do you think’s gonna happen when we put them together? Exactly. But, despite anticipating the outcome and the character arc for Lloyd, it’s still satisfying to watch the effect that Mister Rogers has on him. Because, much like Mister Rogers, Lloyd is a symbol. Sure, he’s based on the real life reporter Tom Junod, but he also represents any number of people who need to be reminded of Mister Rogers’ messages. Because again, this movie is less about Mister Rogers himself and more about the impact that he had. So, what does that mean exactly? What’s the film about? Well, it’s about feelings. About acknowledging and accepting your feelings and then figuring out the best way to deal with them.
It’s about parenting and childhood. Not only the obvious aspects of that, but also the not so obvious, like learning how to deal with that unique period in your life where you’re both somebodies’ child and somebody else’s parent. It’s about forgiveness and the emotional burdens so many people trap themselves into carrying. Sound familiar? Well, it should cause these are all things Mister Rogers spent more than 30 years teaching us about. And that’s key to appreciating this film. Not only cause of the thematic connections, but also cause of what it means for the structure.
The story itself was predictable, but the way it was told was anything but. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Really. It serves as a unique framing device for the story and showcases everything you’d expect from an episode of the show. The aspect ratio, Mister Rogers’ musical entry, the overarching lesson, trips to the Land of Make Believe even little things like watching a documentary-style clip on Picture Picture. The film has this interesting, almost meta approach cause Mister Rogers serves as both the host of this ìepisodeî as well as one of its subjects.
I think my favorite element of this approach was how scene transitions were handled, especially when making the jump from the episode framing device to the real world of the story. Much like the transitions from Mister Rogers’ house to the Land of Make Believe involved the trolley and stop-motion miniatures of the neighborhood, we get miniatures here too ñ just on a much larger scale. Not only do we see the neighborhood, but we get cityscapes of New York City, taxis going across the bridge to Jersey, and even plane travel ñ all in that classic Mister Rogers transition style. Much like Lloyd feels the impact of Mister Rogers over the course of the film, we experience the effects of his presence too. While never outright stating it, this movie really shows how universal Fred Rogers’ messages were. His show might’ve been directed at kids, but it certainly wasn’t only for kids.
The messages of kindness and understanding apply at any age and this film does an excellent job of capturing that. Alright let’s talk about the pros and cons. Pro number one is the framing device. It’s such an obvious thing to do, but it completely took me by surprise. I love the idea of turning the film itself into an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. It just works so well. There’s the nostalgic element to it of course, but it works perfectly in the thematic context too. Cause the lessons that Lloyd learns over the course of the film are the same that Mister Rogers would normally teach on his show. It’s a really interesting exercise in the application of his ideas. Plus, it just provides this unique quality to the film and takes iconic elements of the show and creatively implements them as a means of telling the broader narrative.
The second pro has gotta be Tom Hanks as Mister Rogers. He’s perfect in the role. Like I said, he might not be a dead-on match physically, but that doesn’t matter cause he manages to capture the essence of Mister Rogers. The mannerisms, the speech patterns, the absurdly almost frustratingly positive outlook on life and any situation he found himself in. I really don’t think I could imagine any other actor taking on the role of Mister Rogers and he just does an absolutely wonderful job with it. As far as cons go, my issues with the film are pretty minimal. I think the only thing I really didn’t like much was the use of dream sequences. They were few and far between, so it didn’t hamper my enjoyment of the film, but they did seem a bit out of place.
They were frequently funny and did attempt to tie into the episode framework, but they just didn’t quite work for me. My second con probably can’t really be considered a con, but I wish there was more Mister Rogers in this. Well, Tom Hanks as Mister Rogers you know what I mean. I loved just about every scene he was in and watching his interactions with Lloyd and any of the other characters was so entertaining. Again, I know he wasn’t truly the focus of the film, so that’s why I’m hesitant to call it a con, but I still would’ve loved to have had more of him. I’m gonna give A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood 3.5 out of 5 paws.
I actually had a really hard time settling on this rating and I’m not convinced that this won’t end up jumping a little higher for me on rewatch. From a message, style, and overall feeling perspective, this is closer to a 4 paw movie, but the story itself is a bit unremarkable, so it balances out to a high 3.5 for me. I would recommend A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood to just about anyone. As the film’s central thesis implies, Mister Rogers’ message and lessons are applicable to anyone at any stage in their life. If you have any sort of existing connection with Mister Rogers, then you’ll get a nice nostalgic boost, but the angle of this film’s story is more mature than Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, so the movie will likely resonate with just about anybody, even if you have no idea who Mister Rogers was. If you liked A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, I definitely have to recommend Won’t You Be My Neighbor.
It’s a fantastic documentary about Mister Rogers which features plenty of archival footage, contemporary interviews, and behind-the-scenes footage of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. It’s incredibly heartwarming and definitely a must-watch film. If you want to see another movie about how a writer’s focus on a public figure changes their own life, you should check out Julie and Julia.
Rather than Mister Rogers, it’s Julia Child and rather than a journalist, it’s a blogger, but the basic gist is similar. Once again, the focus isn’t on the celebrity themselves, but rather on the impact they had on others. If you just want to see (or maybe not see) Tom Hanks portray another real-life person, you should check out Sully. Even though Sullenberger isn’t quite as recognizable a figure as Mister Rogers, Hanks does a great job of disappearing into the role. Alright, a couple questions for you guys. Number one: Have you seen A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood? If so, what’d you think of it? And number two: What’s your favorite movie that features an interesting framing device for its story? Be sure to leave your answers in the comments below so we can get a discussion going.