Sunday, November 24, 2019

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood isn't what I expected. Director Marielle Heller and screenwriters Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster choose not to not center the movie around Fred Rogers but on the friendship which was created when Rogers met a journalist doing a piece on him for Esquire magazine. The construction of the film arguably makes Fred Rogers a supporting player in his own movie, but it also tilts the focus not on how Fred Rogers came to create and host Mister Rogers' Neighborhood but instead on what many agree is his most defining characteristic - his drive to help people.

Matthew Rhys stars as investigative journalist Lloyd Vogel who isn't all that keen on the puff piece assignment of interviewing Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks) for the magazine's hero issue. Lloyd is also dealing with some strain in his marriage to Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson) with a new baby and the unexpected return of an estranged father (Chris Cooper).

If you are looking for a more in-depth look at who Fred Rogers was, I would suggest last year's documentary Won't You Be My Neighbor? which delved far more deeply into the man and his career. Starting from the point of a single article written about him, based on true events, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood instead offers a broader stroke of what kind of a man Fred Rogers was by examining his impact on a single person (who at first doesn't know what to make of Mr. Rogers or his world).

Although it took me a couple of minutes to get used to hearing Hanks speaking in Rogers' voice, there's no doubt that he's the right man for the job. Looking back, one could almost argue his career has led him directly to this role. Rhys turns out to be a good choice in showcasing the far different world view Lloyd Vogel which is forever changed by meeting "some children's host in Pittsburgh." Susan Kelechi Watson steals perhaps the best line of the film as Lloyd's wife and both Enrico Colantoni and Christine Lahti are put to good use in minor roles as a producer Mister Rogers' Neighborhood and Equire editor respectively. The film also beautifully recreates the set of the famous television show for both showcasing how the show worked and to frame the larger storyline, adding another character to the cast.

While I didn't find the movie as emotional as last year's documentary, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood offers its share of surprises and heartwarming moments. Although Hanks is likely to get most of the attention, deservedly so, the film only works because of the conflicting perspectives of both the central characters as Rhys is forced to raise his game her or get swept completely away by Hanks' performance. What the film does best, however, is present a view of life, of love, that one man spent his entire life sharing with others which is worth acknowledgement and celebration.

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