In a world fraught with dis-unity and despair, there is (or was) Mr. Rogers, who always took a positive view of his surroundings. Well the world hasn’t changed a whole heck, so I was looking forward to seeing A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, a new movie based on the mythic children’s host Fred Rogers.
However, the story is not really about Mr. Rogers it’s more about a journalist who is sent to interview him for a story in Esquire. Welsh actor Matthew Rhys plays the writer, (BTW) this part of the story is true, and the movie is loosely (very loosely) based on his article (from 1998) and interactions with Rogers. However, the film takes liberties with the journalist’s life which is why writer Tom Junod asked that they change his name in the movie. My guess, the story needed conflict, and Fred Rogers (the man, the character or both) have none, so writers, (Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster) fictionalized a back story about the writer filled with pain and soap opera.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood tackles faith, goodness, and feelings—so much so that I needed an insulin shot on the way out. I know I’m going to be attacked for my opinion on this one, but please remember I’m not criticizing Mr. Rogers, I’m criticizing a movie. Firstly, Tom Hanks is terrific, he’s always terrific—his chirpy slow speaking portrayal of an icon is well done. But it’s the writing on this one that reeks of contrivance at every turn. This film literally felt like a bad Hallmark movie that attempts to turn dark to light in every scene.
It has moments where it shines and that’s when Hanks is center stage. When we see Rogers/Hanks with a sick kid or watch him juggle a crowd with great patience—it’s lovely, but it doesn’t make for an interesting film, it makes for some sweet moments.
And in a highly theatrical scene, Rogers/Hanks asks journalist (Ryhs) to bow his head in prayer at a restaurant, and the patrons of the restaurant have seemingly overheard this request and the entire place goes silent (little known fact: the extras in that scene include Fred’s real-life wife as well as the production folk who worked with him on his show) nice moment, but over the top and not real.
Fred Rogers was a man who used his fame (and his show) to help kids feel better about the world and sort through its ugliness. I wanted to love/like/enjoy this movie, but I found myself staring at my watch.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood was directed by Marielle Heller (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) and also stars: Susan Kelechi Watson as the understanding wife, and Chris Cooper as the bad dad who attempts to make amends.
According to the producers, the film was years in the making, the Rogers estate were very keen on preserving Fred’s image—well done in that department, it just didn’t make for an interesting tale. If you’re a Rogers fan, go see the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor, released last year.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is in theaters now.