A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Starring Tom Hanks, Enrico Colantoni, Matthew Rhys, Chris Cooper
It is likely that I’m one of the few people who haven’t seen the documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” despite having watched “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” as a child. It would be incorrect to think the new feature film by Marielle Heller is centered around the beloved Mr. Rogers. It’s not. In fact “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” focuses on Esquire magazine writer Lloyd Vogel, portrayed by the un-charismatic Matthew Rhys (“The Report“). Of course, the selling point is Tom Hanks doing an impersonation of the iconic Fred Rogers, but it’s just that, a selling point. Nostalgia can only get you so far and “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” struggles with the point of view it takes. Due to Hanks’ limited screen time the film limps along to a lackluster conclusion, leaving those unfamiliar with Rogers legacy mostly uninformed. The trade-off is getting the full portrait of Lloyd Vogel!
“Fred Rogers is the only person out of 50 selected heroes that would agree to speak with you,” Lloyd Vogal’s editor explains. Forced to take the assignment on Mr. Rogers, Vogal (Rhys) is surprised to learn there is much more to the cardigan-wearing, children’s program host. “Don’t ruin my childhood,” his wife Andrea (Watson) begs. Their first interview lasts only 20 minutes on set in Pittsburgh where the show is taped. Instantly Mr. Rogers (Hanks) turns the focus to Lloyd and his anger towards an absent father (Cooper). Lloyd comes to understand that ‘broken people’ who have lost faith in humanity are Rogers specialty. Lloyd cannot just write 400 words on a man that has so much love and goodness to share with the world. Their meetings continue, and little by little the cynicism is eroded away by America’s most caring TV personality.
"...‘Neighborhood’ appears to have no interest in creating the kind of narrative "The Two Popes" lands by showing the audience on how Fred Rogers got to be so saint-like."
The third film from Heller again focuses on a writer. Her overly raunchy, vintage coming of age story “The Diary of a Teenage Girl,” Melissa McCarthy’s Oscar-nominated “Can You Ever Forgive Me” and now this, all focus on writers with issues to work out throughout the course of a film, with the help of someone new who enters their life. ‘Neighborhood’ has a lot of faults, but casting Rhys in the leading role is a death sentence. He simply cannot and does not carry the weight of the film. Hanks is fine with his enactment, but it’s just that, never rising above an imitation. Chris Cooper sings surprisingly well, but what he doesn’t do well is come in and create the abandoned father looking for forgiveness. By the second act, this film has turned into a dull day in the neighborhood and those unsure of who Rogers was or what he was about, leave nearly as uninformed.
It’s humorous how every difficult question Vogel hurls at Rogers is met with gratefulness and some anecdote that makes the audience laugh because it’s frustrating the interviewer. Sure there are inspirational moments that encourage the audience to go out of the theater and treat each other with the love and dignity Rogers showed everyone, and that’s beautiful sentiment. ‘Neighborhood’ doesn’t commandeer the kind of narrative “The Two Popes” achieves by showing the audience how Fred Rogers got to be so saint-like. The most creative element to the film is the transitions that start with the toy miniatures of Roger’s show and continue to be used to show where the characters are traveling too. “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” boils down to a movie studio wanting to capitalize on the popularity of the documentary and squeeze a feature film out of it. Audiences might feel cheated from the false advertising, once they discover the film isn’t about Rogers. The ole’ bait and switch marketing manipulation.
Hanks limited screen time doing an impersonation isn’t enough to save a film that’s told from a lackluster point of view.
8 comments on “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”
Why is it every time a movie is at 97% or better on Rotten Tomatoes one of the only bad reviews comes from you? Trust me, the other 97% isn’t making things up just to get the industry to like them. I’m not sure how your reviews are helpful to the 97% of us who adored Fred Rogers and his show growing up. You have to understand the man to understand the point of view.
*If you notice the date on this review, I saw it at TIFF before it even had a % on Rotten Tomatoes.
And I wish A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood focused on Fred Rogers, told me what he was really about. Instead, it tells the audience about “that guy from Esquire”. I left the film knowing little more than before about Rogers (I watched him growing up too by the way, yet have not seen the doc). I agree, you have to understand the man to understand the point of view, but the film doesn’t give us that. I don’t really write the reviews to be helpful per say, I just have to give an honest account of my experience an view on the film. A film critic doesn’t just go around agreeing with what the masses dictate.
I can only assume that you have no soul.
So I have no soul because I didn’t enjoy a film about an Esquire journalist with little no redeeming value played stoically by Matthew Rhys, whom I thought gave a forgettable performance? Let me ask you this, if you are a foreigner, who has never heard of Mister Rogers, and you go see this film because it’s getting good reviews. Do you understand who Mister Rogers is and what he is all about by the end?
Your second to last sentence contradicts the first sentence of this drivel. This ain’t for you, buckaroo.
How so? It’s called false advertising. The studio is pretending A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a “Mister Rogers” movie, when in fact, he has only about 20-25 minutes of screentime in the 2hr+ film. That’s my point.
Excuse me – third to last sentence. If you didn’t see the documentary, how could you level that this was a cash grab as a result of it?
It’s ok, there are very few good writers doing copy these days, so no one else may notice. I read the whole thing; o gave you all the benefits of doubt until that sentence. Sometimes ending a piece is the hardest part. At least you were able to sell it.
Because I can read: I can look up how much the documentary made, track it’s award success, listen to all my colleagues who bragged on the doc, and understand that it was a hit that Sony wanted to profit from. There is nothing innately wrong with that, it just didn’t work they way they hoped it would.