Hey you. I wrote this Review Just for You because I like you.I also like pizza.
Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster
By the time you finish reading this sentence your kids will have seen Frozen 2 at least two times and will be pestering you to buy tickets to see it again.
In case you couldn’t hear yourself think with all that awful Disney music in the background, there are other movies opening this weekend before Thanksgiving besides Merchandising 2.
There’s the long awaited sequel to 20 Bridges, 21 Bridges starring Chadwick Boseman (the blackest person ever to be named “Chadwick”.)
And if you’re looking for some obvious Oscar bait to make you feel better about your viewing choices, you can force yourself to watch A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood starring America’s sweetheart Tom Hanks in his first starring role in a little under two years. You can feel good knowing you paid money to watch something that will at least be mentioned during awards season, something that took you back to your childhood. Happier memories you haven’t suppressed from when your uncle touched you.
After you see through ABD, you can allow yourself to sit through the empty calories that is Charlie’s Angels.
Wait. Charlie’s Angels bombed so bad it lost screens just to make room for another 12 screenings of Frozen.
Do you have to be familiar with Mr. Rogers Neighborhood to enjoy ABD? Not really, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. Unless you’re used to seeing a 60-year old man playing with puppets wearing a red sweater.
Then again, you may like Googling “60-year old men playing with puppets while wearing a red sweater.” Who am I to judge?
A Beautiful Synopsis
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood opens like an old episode of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. Before gentrification and bloody urban warfare.
We meet our old friend Fred “Mr. Rogers” Rogers (Tom Hanks, upping his onscreen body count to match John Wick’s). You remember from the best memories of your childhood or your weirdest YouTube searches: Mr. Rogers taking the sweater off and putting it in the closet (the sweater made from the skin of underprivileged children), the tossing of one shoe in the air and then the other (if he wanted to Fred could poke both your eyes out with one flick of a loafer), that catchy song about you being his neighbor (embedded in the lyrics are the exact specifications of his weed order).
With this intro you’re taken back to your younger years, before that thing that happened with your parents and you never saw them again.
Fred would like you to meet a very special neighbor, a very special friend named Lloyd.
ABD opens again sometime in 1998. You can tell it’s 1998 because I will have finished this review by the time you’re able to log on to the internet. We meet Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys “Witherspoon”). He writes magazine articles for Esquire.
Fun Fact- “Magazines” were websites back in the 90s except instead of clicking on things you had to use your hands to turn things called “pages”. I know. Kind of a hassle.
Lloyd doesn’t write puff pieces. He’s a serious journalist with a reputation of being a a-hole to his subjects. But we’ll get back to that later.
Lloyd is a new parent with his wife Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson). Lloyd and Susan are getting ready for Lloyd’s sister Lorraine’s (Tammy Blanchard) wedding. This would normally be a happy occasion except for one thing.
Lloyd’s father Jerry (Chris Cooper) will be there.
For reasons you won’t find out until a second act reveal, Lloyd and his father don’t get along. Lloyd has daddy issues up both ‘Ls’ in his name. He’s probably pole-danced like in Hustlers and has a tramp stamp of a butterfly. In the time-honored tradition of disconnected fathers and sons, Lloyd calls his dad Jerry. Jerry has never met Lloyd’s wife and child. What better time to make introductions than at a wedding. Nothing could possibly go wrong.
Except that Jerry and Lloyd get into a fistfight.
While Lloyd nurses a black eye, his editor Ellen (Christine Lahti) gives him an assignment. He’s to interview Mr. Rogers for a series on heroes.
Lloyd says he doesn’t do fluff pieces. He does serious work. Ellen says that no one wants to talk with Lloyd anymore because he writes appalling things about his subjects.
No one that is, except Fred Rogers.
Lloyd agrees to fly to Pittsburgh from New York because it’s his job to meet with this so-called “hero.”
Lloyd meets Fred and can’t believe what he’s seeing. Fred is a decent person who tries to treat everyone he meets with love and respect. Lloyd, being the cynic that he is, suspects ulterior motives or at least a sketchy browser history if that was a thing in 1998.
Lloyd will soon realize that you can’t fight the power of the Fred. Mr. Rogers will overwhelm him with kindness. So much so that by the end of the movie (spoiler) every single issue addressed in the first act will be brought up and solved. Lloyd will be the perfect person and parent and write the greatest magazine article in the history of magazines.
Oh what a lovely day…
What Works With It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
- The screenplay by Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster seamlessly works in what you remember from Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood into a more-or-less cohesive story with Lloyd as the main character. Even if you never saw the show as a child (like me), you grasp why it was so popular among children and why Fred was so loved. Personally, I never watched it because those puppets unsettled me to my prepubescent core. Also, I was raised in an Asian household so I was studying math or the violin or something terrible instead of watching the devil’s television.
- ABD works best in moments. A “silent” scene in a restaurant is the most transcendent part of a movie that up until that point has been pretty standard.
What Doesn’t Work With A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
- Tom Hanks- It isn’t that Tom Hanks is bad in the role of Mr. Rogers, far from it. But it’s an icon playing an icon. Tom Hanks embodying decency and kindness is something he can do in his sleep. He’s never phoning in it, but as the audience you’re never surprised. It reminded me of Lady Gaga playing a (gasp!) singer in A Star is Born. Not exactly a stretch.
- Except for a couple of sequences on the set of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, ABD never feels like anything more than a TV movie with a larger budget and longer running time. You realize you like ABD, but never reach the level of loving it. Director Marielle Heller (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) paces the film briskly enough, but you’re never moved because you can predict nearly everything that’s going to happen.
An escape from your kids while they see Frozen again. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is transparent awards bait that you recommend but with some reservations. See it and you’ll get exactly what you expect. Nothing more.