A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019): Why the World Needs Tom Hanks

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“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is directed by Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Can You Ever Forgive Me?) and stars Tom Hanks (Cast Away, Forrest Gump), Matthew Rhys (The Americans, The Post), Susan Kelechi Watson (This Is Us, The Blacklist), and Chris Cooper (American Beauty, Adaptation). This film is based on the on the article “Can You Say… Hero?” by Tom Junod, which was published in Esquire magazine. It focuses on the character of Lloyd Vogel, who is in a bit of rut when it comes to the current state of his job. Prior to this, he attended his sister’s wedding and got into a fistfight with his father. Now, he has to interview Fred Rogers on a segment his organization is doing on heroes, which is pretty much where the movie’s main subjects lie.

I think Fred Rogers may be one of the greatest people to ever walk this Earth, and this is coming from somebody who has never had him in my childhood, with one exception. That exception by the way is my grandmother constantly singing the opening theme to “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” when I was in her presence. It’s a delightful little song, no matter what age you are, no matter what mood you’re in. In fact, one of the best parts about this movie is how they implement the show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” into it. Let me just be clear, for those of you who know nothing about this movie, and have not seen any marketing. This movie is not about Fred Rogers’ life. It goes over what could have been a nifty little portion of his life, but this is not a textbook of all the things Fred Rogers did from birth to death. Fred Rogers is practically a main character in this film, but it does not mean the film is about HIM per se. If you ask me, it is more about Lloyd Vogel, the reporter who has to interview Fred Rogers. And I honestly do feel the need to say that, because I feel like a good number of people, I don’t know how many for sure, but still, a decent amount of people are going to go into this movie, thinking of it purely as a Mr. Rogers story, which it kind of is, but not really.

But going back to what this film contains in regards to “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” what this movie was able to do by using the show in one way or another was incredible. The movie kinda sorta plays out as if it were an episode of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” In fact, the first scene of the film has Tom Hanks doing the iconic intro to the show. A lot of you likely know what I’m talking about. Rogers, or this case, Hanks, walks through the door, starts singing, changes his sweater, adjusts his shoes, he does the whole nine yards. I was in a rather full cinema, and it honestly felt like we were watching an episode of the classic children’s show. And it honestly shows with Tom Hanks performance.

I think Hanks here gives one of the best performances of the year. He’s probably not going to end up being top dog for me, Joaquin Phoenix is a tough competitor. However, Hanks as Mr. Rogers was everything I wanted. In fact, I think this was perhaps the easiest casting decision anyone could make for a role like this, because in Hollywood right now, Tom Hanks is often seen as that “nice guy.” You talk to anyone in Hollywood, they’ll often refer to Tom Hanks as a pure gentleman, therefore it’s almost hard to avoid thinking of Tom Hanks as this generation’s stereotype that could easily match with Mr. Rogers. Is he as nice? It’s hard to tell. He does not have a children’s TV show that airs on a network every day, but how often do you look at the news and read the headline “Tom Hanks Is a Dick Who Shatters Glass In Your Eyes, Says Everyone”? I think a lot of what made Hanks’ performance stellar is not just how he goes about with certain mannerisms to turn himself into his character, but I think directing was a key component here as well. After all, if you watch the movie, you’d notice Tom Hanks taking advantage of time in front of him, and wasting some of it by either being quiet or pausing. For all I know, maybe Hanks cautiously studied Rogers prior to taking on his role, maybe he has a solid memory when it comes to Rogers himself, but long story short, Hanks aced his role and I’m going to give one of the best compliments I can give an actor, I cannot see anybody else playing this role at this point.

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Again, I’ll mention, despite how this movie is called “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” it does not entirely have to do with Mr. Rogers. And I do not think that is the worst thing in the world. I say that because what the film manages to do with the character of Lloyd Vogel was just as worthy of my attention as were the scenes exclusively involving Mr. Rogers. I really enjoyed his arch in this film, which really fits in with the idea of a story about maybe what a child could have been going through at a particular point in their life. The whole idea of Mr. Rogers himself is to provide a space through the television to inform and educate young children, spread kindness, and let the children viewing the program know they’re special. The movie dives into the emotions, internal thoughts, and personal life of Vogel. He never seems like the happiest person in the room, and if you watch him in this movie, it shows. And the way this film goes about telling the story of Vogel, it really goes to show the impact Rogers himself had on the generations he had to serve through television. Speaking of Vogel and Rogers, I really like the chemistry between the duo. There are a couple scenes that still stand out to me, specifically where Rogers is talking to Vogel through one of his puppets and Vogel is clearly irritated by the current scenario. I imagine if they didn’t have the right actors for this scene, the movie, I don’t know for sure, but this is my personal assumption, would have ended up being awkward as HELL. But somehow their chemistry easily clicked and the scenes between them were worth my time.

I also will say, sticking with the notion that this movie is sort of played out like a Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood episode, there are a couple little neat transitions in the film that pay homage to the low-budget yet somewhat colorful props and set design of the series. I can’t say this film brought me back to my childhood, in fact I was born in the very late nineties, I did not grow up with “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” being a part of my life. If I could describe this film in one of many ways, one thing I should say is sort of similar to what I just said. This movie may not have made me travel back to a time of pure nostalgia, but it reminded me of something that may have been missing from my life, sort of similar to how I felt leaving “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,” the documentary on Fred Rogers which just released last year. When I did my review for that film, I explained that my childhood, even though I think there are a lot of things that I wouldn’t change about it, may have been missing a program like “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” being a part of it all. A program that is not too obnoxious, not too flashy, not too dumbed-down, but a series that manages to educate people about life, serious topics, and important lessons at a level that a young kid can comprehend. In fact, this movie even touches upon something that I kind of was surprised to hear, not to mention, appreciative because I heard it. I am not sure how often Fred Rogers said this in real life, but based on Tom Hanks’ portrayal, he did not view himself as perfect. Because when I think of Mister Rogers, I think of a guy who is calm, collected, understanding, and courteous to those around him. He loves people, especially children. Even if they are being rotten, he still has respect for them for being, well… them. I wish I could do that. But even he, like some of the kids who looked up to him in the past, has to deal with his own pain, his own troubles, and maybe it’s not always easy for him. The scene where the character of Fred Rogers manages to reveal such a thing, humanized him. I say humanized, because I almost would not be surprised if there were perhaps some unexposed religious text that maybe we will never see for the rest of time, and the text suggests Fred Rogers is perhaps the second coming of someone like Jesus. It felt nice to see that even the most heroic of people may need help at times.

However, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is not entirely beautiful. It’s a good movie, but not entirely beautiful. I had high hopes for this film, and I wonder if I set them too high, kind of like I did with a film like “Avengers: Endgame.” There was no way it was going to be THAT good. It was very enjoyable, similar to “Endgame,” but much like “Endgame,” it has problems. I will say the film ends brilliantly, but the last minute, I won’t get into specifics, but there’s this final moment that feels sort of tacked on and unnecessary, if I were the editor, I would have removed it from the final cut. But that’s just me. I also think this film wouldn’t be one that I’d be watching again anytime soon, as much as I enjoyed it. I think the film is a fun time, but it’s also one that I don’t see any reason to go back to. It’s a good time at the theater. Will I buy the Blu-ray? Maybe. Will watch the Blu-ray anytime soon? Probably not. I have priorities. When I left “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” in 2018 it felt like a life-changing experience. This on the other hand, felt simply like a fine movie. I’m not complaining, but “life-changing” is definitely higher on the scale than “fine.”

In the end, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is a delightful and charming little film that reminds me the power of being kind. I think it is a proper film for just about any audience member. I think it is also a really good family film. I should also point out, it’s PG. If you want to see Tom Hanks act his heart out, delivering a solid performance as a pure heroic icon, this movie is for you. Is it the best movie of the year? Not really. But it is also a fine time at the movies as far as I’m concerned. The chemistry between the two leads is fantastic and even if the movie almost kinda sorta feels like two in one (one about Fred Rogers and another about Lloyd Vogel), it still manages to impress me. I’m going to give “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” a 7/10.

Thanks for reading this review! I just want you all to know that next week I’m going to be seeing a couple movies including “Jumanji: The Next Level,” which I will be going to see on Monday. But, on Sunday, I’m going to be going to see a film that has been apparently getting a lot of hype recently, “Uncut Gems.” This is an advance screening at Boston’s new Arclight theater, which I might do a post on eventually reviewing it (depending on how much time I have on my hands). The reason why I am going is because there are going to be several people involved with the film who are going to be present at the screening. Specifically, the directors, the composer, former Boston Celtics player Kevin Garnett, and the film’s star, Adam Sandler. I cannot wait for this screening, I hope the movie is as good as people are saying it is, and I hope this is yet another example of A24 delivering an excellent product. Be sure to follow Scene Before if you want to see more posts like this one! How? Use an email, or WordPress account for greater access! Do you like Facebook? Yeah? Well then, check out the Scene Before Facebook page and give it a like! I want to know, did you see “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood?” What did you think about it? Or, and I’m not sure how many people saw “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” or how many people saw that and the movie I am currently reviewing, but if you did see both movies, which was better? Do you prefer “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” or “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood?” Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

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