In Brief: Flawed enough to spoil it but still a beautiful movie about a beautiful man.
The movie is based on an article by Tom Junod called Can You Say…Hero? He published it in Esquire Magazine in November of 1998. It’s a fascinating read packed with Rogersisms and great, short stories about the man. Some of them found their way into the movie, others did not.
More of them should have. In fact, director Marielle Heller (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) and her writers Micha Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster (Malificent: Mistress of Evil) should have turned the article into a movie instead of just borrowing stories of the man’s real life.
In other words, more Mr. Rogers, less of the made-up story of the reporter.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood turns Junod into a reporter named Lloyd Vogel. He’s played by Matthew Rhys who will soon be playing Perry Mason in a new TV series. Rhys also played Watergate tattletale Daniel Ellsberg in The Post and won a Golden Globe and got Primetime Emmy nominations for his work in TV’s The Americans.
Vogel has heavy issues with his father and can’t forgive him. Rogers picks up that Vogel is troubled and sets about to — in ways that only he could do — help the man learn to forgive. That means reaching back when dad — done by Chris Cooper — reaches out.
He is not even close to able to do that.
A couple of scenes in the film make it worth seeing. Both are from the article. The first — and such a beautiful scene — is people of all generations and all nationalities in a subway car singing Rogers theme song to him. The second has to do with how Rogers reaches Vogel by telling him that a big part of why he is who he is has to do with who — bad or not — his father is and how he was raised.
Two deeply profound scenes in a film full of cliche scenes.
And you don’t care that they’re cliche. What we all want to see is Hanks being Mr. Rogers, and we want to love him, and care and smile, and just be happy. Rogers whole goal in life was to reach people and help them be as fulfilled as possible and that seems to embody Hanks.
It’s what we know of him, and how he has conducted himself throughout his career. Like Rogers, we see Hanks as an accessible human being who genuinely cares about us and how we live our little lives.
He’s certainly accessible here. Hanks spent hours studying Rogers, his style of speech and his mannerisms. He nails the man. Close your eyes and it’s him. He’s no doubt going to be on everyone’s best list when nominations happen for best actor toward the end of the year.
But in this movie, Hanks is more of a supporting role. It will be interesting to see how it all shakes out.
As for the film. I wanted more Mr. Rogers and less of the troubled reporter and his made up troubles and troubled family.
Last year’s documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor sat at the top of my movie favorite list. It was an amazing piece of work. In places it was so deep, and so touching that it brought tears to the eyes of many. It even came close to — no easy feat — bringing tears to the movie-hardened heart of mine.
It made me realize that in these troubled and confusing times, we need more people like Fred Rogers. That’s what I wanted from A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.
Plus, this is Tom Hanks and if anyone embodies the spirit and niceness of Fred Rogers it is Hanks. Knowing he was doing the role made me believe a smile would be planted on my face from the opening minute to the closing credits. The anticipated ear-to-ear grin didn’t materialize.
That’s not totally true. It did happen, just not enough.
Director: Marielle Heller
Stars: Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Chris Cooper, Susan Kelechi Watson, Maryann Plunkett, Christine Lahti
Rated PG for mature themes. Who doesn’t love Mr. Rogers? And who doesn’t love the idea of Tom Hanks playing Mr. Rogers in a movie about Mr. Rogers? The problem? Too much of everyone but Mr. Rogers. Still, it’s a pretty good movie and it gets a Mr. Rogers friendly Friday Flicks with Gary 3 1/2 on the 0 to 5 scale.
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Gary Wolcott has been reviewing movies on radio, television and newspaper since 1990. He believes — and this is an estimate only — that he’s seen something close to 10,000 movies in his lifetime. Gary is a lifelong fan of films and catches a couple of hundred movies a year. He believes movies ought to be seen on the big screen and not on the small screen in your living room or family room. While he loves movies, he also says reviewing film can be a real sacrifice and that he sees many movies so you don’t have to.
He is one of KXL 101.1 FM’s film critics and joined the news staff in 2014. Gary is also the film critic for Tri-Cities, Washington’s Tri-City Herald.