In back-to-back years, audiences have been treated to two films about the well known children’s television icon Fred Rogers. After watching both, “Won’t You Be my Neighbor” from 2018 is the clear winner.
In the other film of the two, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” Matthew Rhys stars as Lloyd Vogel. An Esquire magazine reporter, Vogel carries a reputation as a very thorough journalist, often upsetting sources for his commitment to telling the truth and holding people accountable. The movie picks up with him being assigned a lighter piece, though, as he’s told to write a story about Mr. Rogers (Tom Hanks), and explore why he’s a hero to people.
Considering it’s more of a fluff profile than a hard hitting piece, Vogel isn’t too thrilled with the assignment. Plus his personal life has hit a rough patch as he’s a new parent who still has some anxieties about being a dad, and his relationship with his own father is poor. Meeting Mr. Rogers, though, begins to change him.
For the most part, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is an alright feel good movie. It features a protagonist on a path of self discovery along with a charming supporting character played by a beloved Hollywood icon.
However, there’s a feeling it could have been a lot more. Unfortunately the movie is held back by some some issues, both in the story and the main character, with each of them tied together.
The arc of Vogel’s icy heart and cynical mindset being chiseled away feels all too generic and standard. Additionally, the story feels a bit too punched up at times, with melodrama and Vogel’s poor attitude played up to a point where it’s less authentic.
In trying to be fair to this movie, which is sourced by a true story, some of the moments that seemed to be played up for the screen could have actually happened. But like the main character, I too am a reporter and I did some research.
Turns out, there was no Lloyd Vogel, because the movie was only loosely inspired by an actual reporter who wrote a story and eventually befriended Mr. Rogers.
Much of the movie felt unconvincing because it turns out that this really was inauthentic. It’s really a shame, too, because the movie could have been a lot more simplified and in turn, more heartfelt and relatable.
More than two decades ago the book “Tuesdays with Morrie” came out and just 20 years ago a made-for-TV film adaptation was released. What worked about that was it was a true, authentic look at a friendship that evolved and grew the two main characters.
“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” could have been that, too, but instead it goes for a more ‘Hollywoodized’ version of this story. It also didn’t help that director Marielle Heller decided to frame the movie as a sort of quasi-episode of Mr. Rogers’ show, complete with bookends and interludes with Hanks’ Fred Rogers.
These aspects can really take an audience out of the experience, as they often feel too gimmicky and clash with the heavier tone the movie is portraying at times.
With all of that said, this really isn’t a bad movie. Heller showed last year with “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” that she’s a competent director and she reaffirms that with this production. Heller and her crew put together a fine looking film and it still contains some really nice moments.
The movie features several scenes that are heartwarming, and a good share of others that are emotional. Watching how committed the film’s Mr. Rogers is to doing good in the world can win an audience over.
The cast deserves praise, too. Hanks is phenomenal in playing the legendary TV host. He injects so much of his well known charm in the kindhearted man, and seeing him portray such good nature can put a viewer in a very good mood.
The supporting cast is solid, too. Rhys does provide an interesting performance with the lead character, and Chris Cooper, who plays Lloyd’s father is good as usual.
“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” overall, has decent directing and a talented cast, with the end result being a fine feel good movie for the holidays. But there’s an inauthentic feeling with this picture too, with as it comes across as over-produced.
There’s a feeling it could have been a lot better if it had simplified and stuck more with the real story. If you’re in the mood for a feel good flick, it’s serviceable, but if you want a better Rogers movie, check out last year’s documentary. 3.0 out of 5.