Hello, Movie Buffs!
Directed by Marielle Heller (Can You Ever Forgive Me?), written by Micah Fitzerman-Blue (Maleficent: Mistress of Evil) and Noah Harpster (Maleficent: Mistress of Evil), and inspired by the 1998 Esquire article “Can You Say… Hero?” by Tom Junod, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019) follows the true story of how Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), a weary and cynical Esquire journalist, learns to overcome his skepticism and embrace empathy, kindness, and decency from America’s most beloved television icon, Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks) from Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a modest and quiet story that celebrates the virtues of patient listening, gentleness, and one's honest expression of their feelings. Mr. Rogers’ decency, patience, emotional intelligence, and understanding nature were consistent in the fact that Mr. Rogers on TV and Fred Rogers in real-life where one-and-the-same person. And while this can be slightly unnerving at times it is also quite humbling. Why? Because it shows how if one man could devote his life to being kind and helping others find a positive outlet to express their emotions, then why can’t everyone else try to do the same? Some people might look at him and call him a “saint” but neither he nor his wife believed that to be true. He was like everyone else but his nonjudgmental kindness came from empathy rather than a sense of superiority. He made kindness and forgiveness easy because they are. Maybe not at first but over time it gets easier and easier, and it only becomes hard when we make it hard when we make excuses to justify that we deserve to feel the way we do. But he shows us that we decide how we feel and that decision determines whether we live a life of happiness or a life of anger. He spoke to his young viewers without haughtiness or condemnation but rather simply as an adult, and he asked his adult viewers to remember what it was like as a child. He uses the example that like favorite toys, hurt feelings that you hold onto are like little reminders of vulnerability that make up the foundation of who you are as an adult.
But unlike the heartfelt 2018 documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor by Morgan Neville and the vastness of the story’s message, this film does not follow Mr. Rogers. Sure the film is set up much like an episode of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, complete with its iconic piano music and a miniature diorama of cities and neighborhoods, but the film primarily follows Lloyd and his journey to forgiveness. It shows how Lloyd’s skepticism and cynical attitude were no match for Mr. Rogers’ kindness, genuine friendship, and never-ending questions that pushed Lloyd to talk about himself, his new position as a father, and how the strained relationship with his father continues to affect him even after all these years. He learns to be a more understanding brother, a more open/responsive husband, a more involved father, and a more forgiving son. This is not like any other biopic film but rather it is a story that demonstrates the level of impact that Mr. Rogers had on the world and delivers a powerful message about kindness, forgiveness, and how to express one’s feelings; something I think we could all learn a thing or two from.
The cast performances were solid. Matthew Rhys (The Post, The Edge of Love) is spot-on in his performance as Lloyd Vogel, who is loosely based on the journalist Tom Junod. Lloyd is a man hurt by his past and as a result, he closed himself off to certain emotions in order to survive but his character development and growth as a new father is aimed to compel audiences to reflect upon themselves. He goes on an emotional journey that forever changes his perspective on life and he acts as the audience’s entry point into the teachings of Mr. Rogers, which demonstrates that even adults can learn something from Mr. Roger’s teachings. Tom Hanks’ (The Post, Toy Story 4) performance as Fred Rogers is delightful. While he is not the spitting image of Mr. Rogers, he manages to convincingly capture the body language and vocal intonations of the beloved American icon. He slows his speech to get the same soothing cadence, holds hands and gives hugs freely, and walks with a level of effortless normality that could almost be considered vulnerable and open. Despite being a beloved icon, Mr. Rogers could almost be considered as the “antagonist” of the film. The reason I say this because he enters the main character’s, Lloyd, life and turns it upside down with is philosophy and way of doing things. Fortunately, he is much needed “antagonist”, otherwise Lloyd would have never been challenged to go on a journey of change. Susan Kelechi Watson (This is Us, The Blacklist) as Andrea Vogel - a public attorney, Lloyd's wife, and an avid fan of Mr. Rogers - delivers a patient and subtle yet powerful performance that makes her the perfect person to stand beside Lloyd and push him to be a better person, especially now since he is a father. Chris Cooper (American Beauty) as Lloyd's estranged father, Jerry is multidimensional. He is a character that tries to be the cool tough guy but really he feels guilt and a product of his own demons.
The rest of the cast - Enrico Colantoni as Family Communications president Bill Isler, Maryann Plunkett as Joanne Rogers, Tammy Blanchard as Lloyd's sister Lorrain, Noah Harpster as Lorraine's husband, Wendy Makkena as Jerry's girlfriend Dorothy, Carmen Cusack as Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood producer Margy Whitmer, Maddie Corman as Lady Aberlin on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, and Christine Lahti as Lloyd's editor - are also great in their respective roles. In addition to the main and supporting cast members, there were a number of notable cameos in the film. There is a particular scene where Rogers and Lloyd are at a restaurant, and the surrounding customers are made of Joanne Rogers, Margy Whitmer, Bill Isler, Margy Whitmer, and even David Newell who played Mr. McFeely on the show.
Overall, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019) is quite possibly one of the most heartfelt and touching films of 2019. Mr. Rogers showed the world that while it can be scary, nasty, and mean it doesn’t always have to be that way. Through is kindness, unconditional love, and simple nature he taught us that we have the power to change the world around us simply by understanding how to talk about and express our feelings in a positive way. He wasn’t a saint. He was an ordinary man who devoted his life to creating a legacy that would impact countless people for generations to come and he showed us a way of life that is easily obtainable for anyone who was willing to try. This is a story that speaks to every and challenges us to be better than ourselves. Whether or not you grew up watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, I highly recommend that you check out this film, especially while it is still in theaters, because I think that you will learn something that will speak to you.
Final Vote --- 8 of 10 stars
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