Had I seen it before: Nope. I meant to see it but I wasn’t on top of things last Oscar Bait Season.
Director: Marielle Heller
Writers: Micah Fitzerman-Blue & Noah Harpster, inspired by the article by Tom Junod
Where you can stream it now: Starz
What IMDb says: Based on the true story of a real-life friendship between Fred Rogers and journalist Lloyd Vogel.
Why I picked it: I never saw this one while it was in theaters (again I totally meant to). And it was about damn to time to justifying that Starz subscription I signed up for.
What I liked: Tom Hanks is great in this, and that really comes as no surprise. I also thing the film had fairly noble intentions and its overall message is a good one. It is okay to have feelings! It’s important to recognize that other people have feelings that are just as valid as yours! You need to express your feelings in a healthy way before they get out of hand! I 100% cosign that message.
I also do love the scene where Mr. Rogers tries to pitch a tent while shooting his show but isn’t able to. When his crew suggests they try to reshoot the scene, Mr. Rogers says it’s good as is, because children should know that things don’t always happen the way adults plan and that’s okay.
What I didn’t like: Trying to frame this as though you’re watching an episode of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood was ill-conceived and doesn’t really enhance the narrative at all. What’s worse, I feel like it set the tone for a movie other than the one I got. As someone who did watch a lot of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood growing up, these images evoke certain feelings of cozy nostalgia but yet the movie isn’t particuarly cozy or nostalgic.
Some of these issues come from the fact that we never really get to see Mr. Rogers be anything other than… Mr. Rogers. This isn’t to say that I think his on-screen persona was inauthentic, but it is to say that I think like any human being, Fred Rogers had layers. The documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? which I’ve reviewed here does a much better job of exploring this. Here, Mr. Rogers functions kind of like a manic pixie dream girl, just a collection of sentimental observations that function solely to jumpstart Lloyd’s character arc and then give that arc another jolt of energy as needed.
It’s telling that my one of my favorite scenes of this movie is the one that has almost nothing to do with Lloyd. Choosing to keep a take that didn’t go so well is pretty much the only insight we get into Mr. Rogers and how his brain works outside of him just playing therapist for Lloyd. And when Lloyd tries to learn more about him, and maybe even empathize with him, Mr. Rogers just kind of says “well, yes, you’re right, but what are ya gonna do?” Such a scene where both men are guarded and trying to figure each other out would work quite nicely if we actually got to see them become more open with each other as the film progresses, but that relationship never seems to reach its full potential. I don’t feel like we ever see these two men connect on an authentic, human level, they just kind of smile and nod at each other.
Another issue in play here is that Lloyd isn’t given too much of a character outside his emotional repression. Oh, a man who’s so concerned with work that he’s not concerned enough with family? Oh, a man who’s bad at letting go of grudges and forgiving people? Nope. Never seen that one before. I was never as invested in Lloyd’s personal drama as the film wanted me to be. I feel like I was duped into believing that the story would be about Lloyd and Mr. Rogers building a fulfilling friendship with each other, when it’s really just about Lloyd dealing with his wife and estranged father while Mr. Rogers is the good angel on his shoulder whispering in his ear to say how he should handle things. Because the scale is lopsided in Lloyd’s favor, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood fails to deliver the warmth and comfort one might expect from a movie about Fred Rogers without achieving the grit and rawness it’s aspiring to.
Also, it’s pretty unbelievable that an editor at Esquire who asked for 400 words would just be fine and dandy with getting a piece that’s 10,000 words and say “kewl beans! Let’s make it the cover story!” Oh, you don’t think editors at Esquire say kewl beans? Great, now you understand the effect of seeing an editor rejoicing about 10,000 words when they asked for 400.
Will I watch it again: I probably will. As much as I love going into these movies knowing as little as possible about what to expect, I’m sure I can take even more away from them on a re-watch.
Who would enjoy it: Maybe people who really, really, REALLY like Tom Hanks and are bored with all the other better movies Tom Hanks has done over the past several years.