Andrew Ciardullo, one of the attendees of the TIFF 2019 study abroad trip and a double major in English and Communications, wrote a film review about the recently released movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, directed by Marielle Heller. Read more below!
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, is a newly released biopic starring Tom Hanks and directed by Marielle Heller. The film is based on the real life story of Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks), who was a beloved children’s show host primarily known for his work on the show Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, and is about Roger’s friendship with award-winning journalist for Esquire magazine Tom Junod, who in the film is named Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys).
The story of the film primarily focuses on Lloyd being tasked to write an article for Esquire profiling Mr. Rogers for their section on real-life heroes. Initially hoping to get enough information on Rogers to write a hit piece, Lloyd somewhat reluctantly accepts the job. However, after meeting Mr. Rogers in person, Lloyd is not only unable to uncover anything negative about Mr. Rogers as a person, but instead slowly but surely starts to understand Mr. Rogers’ philosophies regarding things like kindness and forgiveness. Through his multiple interactions with Mr. Rogers, Lloyd starts to come to terms with his own troubles regarding his own personal and family life, especially in regards to his strained relationship with his father, and the stress he now has having to be a father himself, and learns to become a better person as a result.
As one would probably expect from a film where Tom Hanks portrays Fred Rogers, the film is at its best when Mr. Rogers is the focus. Hanks does a pretty phenomenal job of capturing a lot of the small and subtle details that made Mr. Rogers seem so charming and kind based solely off of his performance. From his soft spoken and gentle voice, to his relaxed posture and body movements, to his absolutely contagious smile, he really captures just how kind and caring Mr. Rogers really was as a person, without over exaggerating it to the point where it becomes cartoonish. This is especially apparent during the scenes in the film where Hanks actually gets to recreate segments from the show Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. The way Hanks recreates the show’s intro right at the beginning of the film, complete with the cheery piano music, the model sets, and the iconic red cardigan sweater, had me grinning from ear to ear, especially due to how great of a job the set and costume designers did at recreating the look of the show, even going so far as to shoot those scenes using the show’s traditional 1.33 : 1 aspect ratio.
Whenever the film just showcases how kind, thoughtful, and polite Mr. Rogers really was as a person–whether it be through his show, the way way he interacts with kids, and especially the way he talks to Lloyd to get him to open up about his feelings while also giving him meaningful advice that helps him deal with his problems–the film is basically impossible to hate.
Unfortunately, this only makes up about half of the actual movie. Despite what the film’s marketing may have led you to believe, Mr. Rogers isn’t really the main character of this film, although he does play a big part in it. The film’s main character is actually Lloyd Vogel. Lloyd is the character who gets the most focus and development in the film, and the story is much more focused on how Lloyd’s interactions with Mr. Rogers lead to him becoming a less cynical and more kindhearted person, while also helping him deal with his own family issues, than it is about Mr. Rogers himself. Even when Rogers is on screen, most of the time we as the audience are mainly supposed to be aligned with Lloyd, and view Mr. Rogers from a more detached perspective, with the film sometimes even cutting away from Rogers’ performing segments on the show to show Lloyd’s reactions to watching Mr. Rogers perform.
Unfortunately, the parts of the movie involving Lloyd’s personal issues, while still decently executed, are nowhere near as interesting from either a writing standpoint or a visual standpoint. When the film isn’t recreating segments from the old television show, the film is still generally well shot, but doesn’t really have a unique visual identity to speak of. There aren’t many creative shots or unique visuals, with admittedly a few exceptions, one in particular being the choice to use model vehicles and sets akin to the old Mr. Rogers show for some of the film’s establishing shots.
The only other sequence that feels stylized is a somewhat bizarre dream sequence that unfortunately feels kind of out of place within the rest of the story. The plot also isn’t much to write home about, as it hits all the beats you would expect in a conventional story about a bitter and cynical man who is more focused on his job than he is on his family, and has to learn about the importance of caring for his family and being a father with the help of a more kind-hearted and emotional mentor figure, whom the main character initially doesn’t like, but grows to understand after getting to know him.
Still, regardless of how conventional the film can be at times, it never feels disingenuous, and the emotional beats do feel earned, even if you can see them coming a mile away. The fact that this story is based on real-life events also helps to make the more conventional plot points a little more acceptable, as it probably wouldn’t have been wise to stray from the actual events the film is based on simply for the sake of making the narrative less conventional. The acting from everyone co-starring with Hanks is also really good, especially when it comes to Chris Cooper’s role as Lloyd’s dad Jerry, even if the main actor Matthew Rhys can sometimes be a little over the top as Lloyd himself.
Overall, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood definitely isn’t a masterpiece, but the movie has heart where it matters. The movie’s admittedly conventional story is held up by Hank’s great performance; a well-composed and comforting score by Nate Heller that does a great job sounding like the old Mr. Rogers show; and a nice message about forgiveness. This message about realizing that the most important thing in life is being there for the people you care about, and supporting them through thick and thin, is sometimes really enough.
I’d definitely recommend this film to people who grew up watching, or are simply fans of, Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, as they will probably really enjoy this movie and get a lot out of it from that perspective, but for anyone who doesn’t have much of a connection to Mr. Rogers already, I’d probably recommend watching the 2018 documentary about Mr. Rogers titled Won’t You be my Neighbor first, and if you really enjoy that, then I’d also recommend that you give this movie a shot.