Movie marketing can be funny sometimes. It can direct you with a simple trailer into thinking a movie is or isn’t something or sway your opinion one way vs. another.
“A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD” is a film you naturally think will be all about Mr. Rogers, the beloved American host of the PBS half-hour children’s educational television series and everyone’s favourite neighbor. Most will agree that the mindset going into this movie is thinking that it will be more of a showcase of the life of one of the kindest men to be on this earth. What you actually get is a film about the relationship that develops between Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks) and Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), a cynical reporter who through his “shut-up-and-get-it-done” magazine editor Ellen (Christine Lahti), is picked for an assignment to interview Fred for a piece on American heroes. The film is all based on the real life story of Tom Junod’s relationship with Mr. Rogers. This along with the fact that not only is Junod aka Lloyd, is known mostly as an investigative reporter who only does serious op-eds – while cutting the people in them to pieces, rather than a puff-piece journo, But the fact remains that he detests that he has even interview Fred at all. Pointedly threading throughout the first half of the film is the “I’m better than this” attitude from Lloyd and therefore he should not be made to do this assignment.
This is where the film goes a bit awry and takes a left turn as the focal point turns us almost completely to Lloyd and the trials and tribulations of his life vs. telling us about Mr. Rogers as the movie is titled. As we fall into watching Lloyd try to get past the fact that not only does he not want to do this interview with again the ‘better than this’ attitude turned on blast, but his sister Lorraine (Tammy Blanchard) is getting married and wants to have their dad Jerry (Chris Cooper) walk her down the aisle. But Lloyd is not up to seeing his dad, the man who walked out on the family as his mother lay dying of cancer and they were just children. In-between all this is his wife Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson), is dealing with taking care of their newborn son and struggling with Lloyd constantly having to travel for weeks for work. While this is all happening, the audience is left wondering where exactly is Mr. Rogers fitting into this story-line.
Don’t get me wrong, the film is about the life struggles, past and present of this journalist that Mr. Rogers ends up befriending during the interviewing process and about Mr. Rogers’ impact on one person’s life on its surface. It’s sheer fun at times and hard not to laugh about his sincere kindness stumping most of those around him as the film brings back many aspects of nostalgia for viewers of the original show. Hanks and company perfectly recreate iconic scenes and moments that are sure to jog fond memories from many. Heartwarming at times, it’s the Hollywood version of Mr. Rogers vs. the documentary version of “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” that was actually about the life of Mr. Rogers and focuses on HIS trials and tribulations versus this film, where we are made to watch a character that you are not sure you even like to begin with. Director Marielle Heller chose to almost completely ignore things that the documentary so focused in on such as Rogers’ faith, his acceptance, teaching and introducing of his audience to accept everyone no matter race, creed or colour. The paradox of this can be pretty off putting at times but Hanks is amazing and tailor made for this role, but it’s hard shake off the feeling that instead of being the lead, he comes off as a supporting actor at best.
However, looking slightly beyond the initial opening of the film, it does reveal itself to also see that it is a look at the human condition and Mr. Rogers’ exceptional understanding of it. It explains the importance people have in each other’s lives and how much we depend on one another, something Mr. Rogers very much understood and exemplified in his life’s work. But again, we can’t help but fall back time and time again, on the fact that we signed up for a movie about Mr. Rogers life, not Lloyd’s family life and it’s a harder sell as it’s just not Mr. Rogers movie and that can’t be forgotten nor forgiven throughout the almost two hour run time.
The end is as predictable as it gets, which is not a bad thing for this movie though, as it’s the perfect fit for Hanks character, Mr. Rodgers. The world we live in today could do with more Mr. Rogers, sadly I don’t think he’d much like what our world has become, nor do I think his way of thinking would be all that accepted as it once was. This might not be Mr. Rogers movie completely, but what this movie is best at is reminding you, that it’s not hard to be kind and maybe we all should be more kind to each other, because kindness is the only thing you can’t have enough of in this world nowadays.
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Media Review Screening: Wednesday, November 13, 2019 ~ Courtesy of LAFTV Film Group
“A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD” WILL BE IN THEATERS NATIONWIDE FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 22, 2019 // WORLDWIDE RELEASE TO FOLLOW JANUARY 2020.
Side note: It’s clear Sony/TriStar is doing a huge roll-out of marketing along with their release of this film, we were given some fun tchotchkes of a Mr. Rogers tie and a cute little bottle cozy that were given to every single person at the screening. We also were treated to a full choir singing “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” and it’s rare and so nice to have such an amazing pre-screening experience and I would like to say thanks to them for that.