I have had few emotional responses to movies like I had with last year’s documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” about the American icon Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. It was not like I was a huge Mr. Rogers fan either. I watched it, but I was much more of an Electric Company guy (with Spider-man) and a Sesame Street fan (for the Muppets). So the tears at that documentary was a major surprise.
Hearing that they were doing a Mr. Rogers biopic starring Tom Hanks made me very happy and I anticipated more emotions.
There were some differences for this film. First, it actually was not a biopic about Mr. Rogers. Fred Rogers was really a supporting player in a story about a reporter for Esquire magazine Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) who had been assigned to write a puff piece on Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks). Lloyd and his family dynamic was the emphasis of the movie and Mr. Rogers played a part. This was inspired by a true story and was based on the book, “Can You Say…Hero.”
Then, while this movie did have some good emotional feels to it, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood did not have the wallop that the documentary had.
That is not saying that this movie was bad because I enjoyed it a great deal. It just felt as if the advertising made this out to be a Mr. Rogers movie where the main focus was on Lloyd.
Lloyd had all kinds of problems in his life including dealing with a new baby, an estranged father who had returned into his life, and an editor who gave him the interview with Fred Rogers because no one else on the list would agree to talk to him. His reputation for hatchet jobs was becoming known and Lloyd went into his interview with Mr. Rogers with the idea of finding if he was “real” or not.
Matthew Rhys does a very solid job here, which is made even more compelling since he is sharing scenes with one of my generation’s greatest actors in Tom Hanks. Hanks, one of the nicest people around, is the perfect choice to portray Mr. Rogers. Hanks does not try to imitate Rogers, but instead encompasses the spirit of the man. I never found myself thinking, “Oh, that is Tom Hanks playing Mr. Rogers” which is a complement for Tom Hanks’ ability.
Chris Cooper has an impactful role as Lloyd’s father Jerry. Lloyd and Jerry had been estranged for years after Jerry left the children with his sick wife. Cooper brings a lot of energy and life into the man attempting to reconnect with his family.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is heartfelt and enjoyable. The scene they showed in the trailer of the children serenading Mr. Rogers on the subway is as charming and warm as any scene you’ll see this year. I kind of wish they hadn’t shown it to us in the trailer. The film is well written and brilliantly acted. This world today would really use a man like Fred Rogers.