A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood Movie Review
It’s a bold move to make a movie about Mr. Rogers that doesn’t star Mr. Rogers, and yet here we are with A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. From Marielle Heller (Can You Ever Forgive Me?), the movie is an intriguing exploration of dealing with grief and anger through the philosophies of one Fred Rogers, even if it feels a bit too safe—and certainly polite—for such a character study.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood thankfully forgoes the biopic route—a film about the nicest man in the history of the world does not make for the best of movies, and besides, the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? checked those uninteresting boxes last year)—and opts to focus on journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), whose assignment to interview the celebrity surfaces some daddy issues.
Rhys does a fine job even if limited by the material, which essentially attempts to dissect a grown man’s anger issues toward his father in a PG-rated setting where everyone just wants to see Fred Rogers. Rhys makes the most of the role, though isn’t able to really flex his acting muscles given that he can never be too angry, let alone curse.
Of course, all eyes are on Tom Hanks, the perfect actor to play the perfect man. Hanks, in a supporting but certainly not an insignificant role, is good at emulating Mr. Rogers, but also proves that anyone attempting to emulate Mr. Rogers ends up coming off a bit creepy and weird. Hanks nonetheless is able to adequately translate Mr. Rogers’ values to adult issues, but I feel that this is the kind of persona he’ll primarily adopt at home just to bug his wife.
Heller’s work is the most notable, if only for the bold direction she applies to this otherwise innocuous production. From the opening scene, in which Mr. Rogers serves up his typical neighborly introduction only to pivot to the story at hand, to the city transitions that appear in low-resolution, miniature form, Heller injects several clever and amusing elements into the film. They are gimmicks, but gimmicks that make sense in the context of the story.
Sadly, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood simply doesn’t have enough material to support a two-hour movie. It probably should have been an 80-minute movie that, arguably, should have had less Mr. Rogers—Hanks’ final scenes seem wholly unnecessary other than to give the audience what it wants. But as is, it drags at times and, more importantly, simply feels slight.
In the end, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is just enough of a crowd pleaser to make it a worthy watch, and even if it comes up a bit short, the message it wants to share—Mr. Rogers’ message, after all—is certainly made loud and clear.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.