Based on this movie’s general time of release as well as the general warm vibe it flaunted, it screamed Oscar-bait with misguided priorities set, as the trailers by themselves did Mister Rogers little justice. But turns out clear passion is present from the direction by Marielle Heller to shine a soft glow on the hardest of hearts. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood indeed shines a beautiful day in the theater, because it allows Fred Rogers to really talk to you—yes, you, in a one-on-one storytelling approach that leaves you happier.
But first, to dispel the “fake news” this movie abuses. The protagonist, “Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) is a heavily fictionalized and re-named version of journalist Tom Junod.” (History vs. Hollywood) Aside from just being a fraud on page, his assignment to gumshoe Mister Rogers wasn’t to clean up his journalist reputation like the movie says. Even worse, a core narrative to his arc involves personal problems with his father as he starts raising a child of his own, and most of that narrative came from the imagination. None of these creative liberties make him feel real, and the technical elements don’t really help either. One edit cut transitions Daniel Striped Tiger the puppet to Mr. Vogel lying on his bed, but without a clear connection between the two shots, and the song, “Down By the Bay” plays at his home during his call from the old celebrity, which ultimately becomes an ineffective attempt at creative sound design. Just talking faithfully about the real Tom Junod would’ve been a more interesting and memorable focus.
Instead, the focus of the production is on truthfully recreating Mister Rogers, which it honestly does well. The makeup on Tom Hanks makes him calmly embody his role in the way he pauses between words, he even sits in the same fashion, as if posing for the many frames within frames the cinematography likes to express, all of which are treated like TV screens focused on this great old man. Together, the frames and his pose help you rest easy.
Yes, television plays a strong narrative role in Heller’s vision; cute little table models of toys create the establishing shots of New York and Pittsburgh, including the familiar introduction of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, which serves as the introduction of this very movie. After the introduction establishes the feel of watching another episode of the show, Mr. McFeely visits to show a film reel on how the magazine business functions. Although after that, the clever narrative is forgotten until the very last scene, only making room for creativity between then with a news clip montage and a hollow dream sequence that blurs the lines between reality and make-believe. These are tonally inconsistent with what Mister Rogers has been all about, but it can be easily forgiven.
In the core narrative, a behind-the-scenes look on the studio set features the song, What Do You Do With the Mad That You Feel, sung between Daniel Striped Tiger and Lady Aberlin. During that same scene of an episode getting filmed, Fred has an enjoyable conversation with a delicate Make-a-Wish child, a poignant exchange fresh after the film’s introduction. The sweetness continues later when schoolgirls lead the subway into singing the fresh theme song when they find Mister Rogers sharing the cart with them. But one scene displays the best example of the screenwriter and director speaking to you—yes, you. That scene harkens back to when Fred Rogers accepted the 1997 Emmy Lifetime Achievement Award. It is done in a mature family-friendly way that brims an aura of forgiveness. These odes to the famous series’ format really help keep the grace intact, even if the thinner aspect ratio ends up yet another inconsistent stylistic choice to the rocky script.
Aside from that one brilliant scene and the feature’s bookends, you can often tell when the dialogue is tailored for the sake of plot exposition. It may also be hard to care simply because the script does not connect Mister Rogers to our modern societal problems, other than having him say that fame is a mere four-letter word. It doesn’t connect the fictionalized daddy issues to the problematic families of 2019 either. But you ought to forgive this film for its clear shortcomings, because there are many ways it can help you.
Instead of seeking reason to accuse another of being worse than ourselves, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood keenly understands you enough to help you see why forgiving another is so important to our world. So, when you wake up tomorrow, be sure to love someone else just the way they are, Fred Rogers would want you to.
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see graded, or if you are interested in guest blogging for my site, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Powster. Web. <https://www.abeautifulday.movie/>.
“HOW ACCURATE IS "A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD"? THE TRUE STORY VS. THE MOVIE.” History vs. Hollywood. CTF Media. Web. <http://www.historyvshollywood.com/reelfaces/you-are-my-friend/>.
Kohn, Eric. “‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’ Review: Tom Hanks Was Born to Play Mister Rogers.” Digital image. IndieWire. WordPress, 8 Sept 2019. Web. <https://www.indiewire.com/2019/09/a-beautiful-day-in-the-neighborhood-review-tom-hanks-1202171897/>.