I saw A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood in a vulnerable state. I went to see this movie in particular solely because it was the next available movie at a time when I needed to sit by myself and be distracted from what was going on in my world. This movie wasn’t great for that, but I’m incredibly glad I saw it.
Tom Hanks doesn’t disappear into the role of Mr. Rogers the way many actors do in biopics (which, let me say, this is not). He’s just a softer, quieter, calmer Tom Hanks. I had thought to myself before the movie came out that he didn’t really look like Mr. Rogers at all in the promos I saw. I figured the studio let that slide because, to many of my generation, we get warm fuzzies from Tom Hanks the way we do from Mr. Rogers. He seems sweet, and caring, and genuine. Please, no one ruin Tom Hanks with some terrible stories. I beg you.
The movie focuses on journalist Lloyd Vogel and his relationship with Fred Rogers as he writes a “puff piece” for an Esquire magazine issue on heroes. Lloyd is an investigative journalist by nature and doesn’t believe Mr. Rogers could really be all he seems. It’s not a spoiler to say that he was actually what he seemed. He becomes a guiding force in Lloyd’s life as he navigates his feelings of anger, fear, loss and guilt. We could all use help dealing with those feelings.
Chris Cooper plays Lloyd’s dad, Jerry. He’s absolutely perfect in the role. He’s a combination of selfish, sad, aggressive and angry, while still remorseful for the state of his relationship with his son. In a particularly emotional scene, Mr. Rogers tells the Vogel family “Anything mentionable is manageable.”
The true accomplishment of this movie was to deliver a lesson to its adult audience that is the very same lesson that Mr. Rogers taught to young children through his television show. It’s important to talk about your feelings – even the ugly and challenging ones – and to work through them in constructive, safe ways.
Mr. Rogers at one point shares ways to deal with feelings – like swimming as fast as you can or playing all the lowest keys on a piano at once. Throughout the movie, director Marielle Heller shows Mr. Rogers doing both of these things, without exploring the reason behind them, and letting the emotional journey remain Lloyd’s – a perfect choice.
The movie is sweet and sentimental without feeling overly sugary. Its’ unique direction is inspired by Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood as a production, without feeling juvenile. The performances are genuine, with Cooper as a stand out, and the message is profound, yet simple.
I think I’m going to start watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood reruns. Oh, and I might take up swimming laps.