Review by Dan Skip Allen
Fred Rogers was and still is an icon to many who grew up watching his show on PBS as a child. He saw the good in every one and inspired so many to be better than they were. On his show, he discussed divorce, racism and war — subjects thought to be taboo around children. Nothing was off limits to him, as he brought these topics and many more up as often and as subtle and compassionate way as possible. He did many many shows during his time on the air which inspired millions of kids and adults to sing the famous song "It's A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood".
This film is about one man of the thousands that met Fred Rogers during the tenure of his show. Matthew Rhys (The Americans) portrays Lloyd Vogel, a writer for the magazine Esquire. He is tasked to write an exposé on Mr. Rogers. In the process he gets more than he bargained for. Mr. Rogers, played by Tom Hanks, turns the tables on him. If ever there was someone to embody Fred Rogers more than Hanks, other than Rogers himself, it would be shocking. He is perfectly cast as this beacon of hope and happiness. Hanks will surely garner some Oscar consideration for Best Supporting Actor for this incredible turn. The facial ticks and the movements are spot on, as well as his piano playing and singing. Hanks truly is the total package as Mister Rogers.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is based on Fred Rogers real life friendship with journalist Tom Junod. This is more of the Rhys character's story than Fred Rogers's. His family situation is nothing to shake a stick at. Anyone can relate to the difficulties of marriage, fatherhood, stress at work and parents we wished we didn't have. I for one sure as hell can. This story was like looking in a mirror at my own relationship with my father: how I still don't forgive him for what he did to my family when I was a child. It hit me over the head like a ton of bricks, and then of course I started turning into him, making me very mad at myself. Fred Rogers helps us see the best in ourselves and in others. It was a very emotional scene when Vogel realized he had it all wrong. Mr. Rogers has that effect on people, and that is what makes this film so effective.
Marielle Heller is coming off of a big hit with last year's Can You Ever Forgive Me? starring Melissa McCarthy in her Academy Award-nominated role. Setting films in a past decade seems to be her thing, her last two films set in the 80's and her directorial debut in the 70's. These films aren't your typical period piece films, but she knows how to make them work around the context of the script and story she's telling. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is shot in the style of the TV show, but with very good editing. Yet she also switches back and forth to a more modern style, creating a sense of contrast within the film. That is one of the most fascinating things about this movie: the style can sometimes change mid-scene, but it all works in the end.
Leave it to Mr. Rogers to make audiences cry again this year like they did last year for Won't You Be My Neighbor?, the biographical documentary on the entertainer. Although film got snubbed at the Academy Awards last year, the chances of the Academy showing no love for Mister Rogers again is slim. Tom Hanks is the best shot at Oscar gold this film has. With any justice he will get that Best Supporting Actor nom he deserves. Matthew Rhys may sneak into the Best Actor race as well, and a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination wouldn't be out of the question either.
This film is a love letter to Fred Rogers and his TV show, but it's also a tale loss and enlightenment. So many lives have been affected by this wonderful man, and this is the story of just one of them. Maybe by watching this film you might be affected as I was. This is a deeply profound film in more ways than one.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood opens in theaters on November 22.
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