Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Review: "A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood" earns every moment of its enormous sweetness

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Last year, one of my favorite films of 2018 was a documentary called "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" which was deep dive documentary about Fred Rogers. How he used television to tap into the minds and souls of children and families everywhere, and how his big heart was real and non-jaded every day. Now, in 2019, Tom Hanks plays Fred Rogers in a film called "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood." In a time where it seems frustration, hurt and cynicism is infecting us all, its a great time to be reminded of his wonderful man.

"A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" is not the movie I thought it was going to be, which is a very good thing. This isn't one of those greatest hits karaoke versions of Fred Rogers' life. This is about a very specific moment on Fred's career. He was interviewed for Esquire magazine around 1998 by journalist Tom Junod. Matthew Rhys plays Lloyd Vogel, who is loosely based on Junod. Lloyd Vogel is a pretty cynical man himself, and he was planning to see if Fred Rogers' persona was all an act or if he really is the accepting, do-gooder that we see on TV.

Like this even has to be explored. After seeing the documentary last year, yes its absolutely true, there was nobody on Earth like Fred Rogers. I don't mean to get geeky on all of you, but if there was one real person throughout the history of the world who could lift Thor's Hammer (if such a thing were real) it's Fred Rogers and its not even close. I can't imagine a more purer soul, a shining example of the type of person I try so hard to be every day. That idea that Rogers likes you for who you are and that you are lucky to be alive, Tom Hanks captures perfectly. That giddy and witty side when creating characters, Tom Hanks captures perfectly. Having the perfect response, the right response, to any question thrown his way, Tom Hanks captures perfectly. Hanks thoroughly becomes and completely embodies the philosophy of Fred Rogers. Its a terrific, terrific performance.  

Lloyd Vogel is cynical because he's estranged by his family. He's one of those tough journalists that finds the negativity and spin on everything. His father (Chris Cooper) cheated on his mother many years ago, and was not around when his mother died. His father wants to make amends after many years, but Lloyd is having none of that. At first glance, it seems justifiable right? But that's the thing about the teachings of Fred Rogers. Not forgiving, whether your right or not, is poison in our veins and the only way we really move on is if we DO forgive those who have wronged us. Lloyd's lifestyle affects everything in his life, including being a new dad. Rogers is able to tap into this without much effort.

Seems pretty cliche, doesn't it? A cynical journalist who lives a cold life sees the light thanks to a moral figure who enters his life by chance. It seems like some kind of dumb cable movie. Yet, the script by Micah Fitzerman-Blue & Noah Harpster plus the vision of director Marielle Heller keep things on point. They are smart enough to turn these people into characters first, then allow the drama to build from there. This feels like something real, while they still layer in all the sentimental sweetness you'd expect from a Fred Rogers movie.

I like how the movie is structured. It feels like one big, long episode of Fred's show. From the beginning music, to the model sets that form a new place after each scene change. It will make you feel nostalgic for the Fred Rogers show. The movie will make you laugh and it will make you cry. It will also make you want to be better then you were yesterday, in 2019, that's a message we need right now more than ever. Not only is "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" a great movie, not only is it one of the best of the year, its a reminder of who are always supposed to be. 


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