A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

If you are one of millions who plan to see A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, you may be in for a surprise. Isn’t this the story of Fred Rogers’ TV relationship with the children who idolized him when they were small? Not quite.

Parents of that time were grateful for the certainty that their smallest children were in a positive, secure space when they tuned into the program. Mr. Rogers was soft and wise in his performances. He listened.

Tom Hanks paints a portrait of Fred Rogers’ quiet way of reaching his very young audience. Here he is again in his cardigan sweater and calm demeanor. But this time he is helping Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), a serious, angry man with negative view of everything in life. Mr. Rogers can’t resist trying to help.

Vogel is married to Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson), a quietly pleasant wife who adores their new baby and is developing a deep sadness at her husband’s lack of interest in the little guy. We learn quickly that Vogel is an unpleasant man at work, at home, and with all people. He has been assigned by his magazine to write a 400-word interview with TV personality Mr. Rogers.

Vogel’s negativity meets Mr. Rogers’ deeply rooted positive approach to life and that 400-word article turns into an extended interaction between the two men. The clash is set and we watch Mr. Rogers’ careful, quiet determination to extinguish Vogel’s dark view of life. That’s it. As the movie unfolds, a mild dullness sets in. Why are people in the audience groaning a little? Why am I feeling bored when I have such respect for Tom Hanks?

This is an actor so well-known and admired for his own kindness and talent that it seems odd that the movie feels weak. It’s possible that despite what is unfolding in the remainder of the story, he is always Tom Hanks even though he tries with quiet modesty to create the gentle Mr. Rogers. Given this problem of his total familiarity, we feel we are watching actor Tom Hanks rather than the quiet, shy, gentle Fred Rogers who once was equally familiar. One famous man is creating another. Isn’t it possible that a lesser known actor might have been able to become Mr. Rogers more successfully?

Sad to say, that’s probably the answer. Each of these two good human beings became so famous in their own fields that it doesn’t work for one to play the other. It happened earlier this year when the fine singer Rene Zellweger played Judy Garland in a movie that never worked. Zellweger created a fine singer but audiences were far too familiar with Garland to enjoy watching her created on screen by a stranger. Famous people are best captured in documentaries with clips of themselves in action (See RBG where Ruth Bader Ginsburg plays herself). Beautiful Day is a perfect example of the difficulty of dealing with fame and fiction.

Film Critic : Joan Ellis
Film Title : A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Word Count : 501
Running Time : 1:48
Rating : PG
Date : November 17, 2019