A beautiful homage to an iconic television personality, Tom Hanks is Fred Rogers in Tri Star Pictures’ A Beautiful Day in The Neighborhood. Fresh off last year’s Oscar-nominated Can You Ever Forgive Me?, director Marielle Heller once again shows a comfortable niche with the biopic film genre.
Screenwriters Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster open the film with Hanks in full Rogers mode. The moment Hanks sings the legendary theme song “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”, memories of childhood return. The sentiment of childhood is given an extra boost by cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes who decides to present the opening moments of the film as if the audience is watching an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood for the first time.
In lesser hands, opening the film this way may have come off as safe; however, with the aspect ratio of classic television, it works to great effect. Fred then decides to tell us the story of writer Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) and the impact each man had on the other’s life. While Lloyd is a talented and award winning writer, his people skills leave much to be desired. When Lloyd is given the assignment to write on an American hero, he initially turns the assignment down. It isn’t until Lloyd learns that Fred was the only person willing to speak with him that he decides to write the assignment. As Lloyd learns about Fred, he also learns what it means to truly be kind.
Growing up I can recall watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood in the early years of my life before action orientated and silly cartoons began to occupy my time. However, I always had admirable respect for Fred Rogers and his views on the world. After viewing last year’s documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, I was anxiously awaiting Hank’s portrayal as Fred Rogers.
With his nice-guy/ everyman acting style, Hanks was born to play the role of Fred Rogers. Naturally Hanks does a grand job portraying the icon, and come awards season, I’m sure Hanks is going to appear on numerous best of lists. I must point out that A Beautiful Day in The Neighborhood isn’t a warts and all biopic of Fred Rogers. Personally, I felt that the true lead in our film is Matthew Rhys’s Lloyd.
General audiences may recognize Rhys from his last lead role as spy Philip Jennings on the The Americans. Rhys’s portrayal of Lloyd is very enjoyable, as Rhys showcases Lloyd a successful man who doesn’t see his own flaws. While Lloyd is a talented writer, he neglects his wife Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson) and their newborn son. Lloyd also has unresolved issues with his father Jerry (Chris Cooper). The arc that Lloyd goes through to repair his relationship is very bittersweet to watch, and there were a few moments I had to wipe the tears in my own eyes. In supporting roles, Susan Kelechi Watson and Chris Cooper both provide quality work.
Fitzerman-Blue and Harpster’s screenplay presents Fred as a perfect saint, which is fine. However, this decision also is the small grievance I have with the film. There is a moment in the film where Fred mentions to Lloyd, that he wasn’t always the best father. In a brief moment we see the regret in Hank’s eyes as Fred, however seconds later he thinks Lloyd for allowing him to see things from another point of view. I would’ve loved to see a flashback to this moment, just to see the man of Fred Rogers a bit more humanized.
Despite this small issue, A Beautiful Day in The Neighborhood is one of the best films of 2019. While I would’ve loved to see a more traditional biopic, director Marielle Heller and star Hanks achieve what Mister Rogers was all about, and that is the power of human connection.