A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a warm cup of cocoa on a cold winter day. It’s not perfect, there are narrative changes I would make, but it on the whole it remains a well-crafted story of grief and the potency and lingering clutches anger can have on our lives and how letting it go and forgiveness can be a potent cure.
Tom Hanks delivers a subtle, understated, and scene-stealing performance as Fred Rogers, the very Mr. Rogers who inspired, lifted up, and moved generations of children and parents alike. His beautiful and so simple, yet so difficult, message of acceptance, of kindness, of love for everyone runs throughout the film, giving it it’s shape.
Yet, the big trick of this Mr. Rogers movie is how little Hanks’ Rogers is actually in it. Ultimately, Beautiful Day is about Matthew Rhys’ Lloyd Vogel, a creative choice that both allows for ample growth and exciting storytelling choices, but one that also veers the film into soap opera territory at times. Vogel’s story of family, loss, patricidal conflict, and anger are the true focus of much of the film and while it works a good deal of the time it also veers into overwrought areas just as much.
The biggest downfall of Beautiful Day, though, is it’s larger narrative structure, with the film deciding to go for numerous meta fourth wall-breaking instances of setting the film’s plot within an episode of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. It is a strange choice that in each instance took me out of the larger film and served as a thudding stop to all narrative momentum. It also serves to undercut much of the growth of the movie and it is only in the final scene of the film that some sort of clarity or insight is gained from the decision.
On the whole though, the various dream sequences, movie within an episode, and non-traditional storytelling present in Beautiful Day detracts rather than adds anything to the movie. Thus, the central tension and conflict of the film. The more over-the-top and soap opera moments don’t land, but, throughout, the film is anchored by Hanks’ and Rhys’ fantastic and quiet performances that I think fully deliver on the film’s heart and promise.
One nearly completely silent scene in the last act of the film between Hanks and Rhys in a diner is a truly emotional, beautiful, and carathic moment, one where the full weight and power of forgiveness and thankfulness come home. It is as moving as nearly anything I’ve seen this year; breathtaking in the variety of emotions conveyed and the story and process of grief undertaken over a single minute as no sounds are made.
Yet most of the movie isn’t that.
Ultimately, part of the problem with Beautiful Day is that it also has to live in the shadow of Won’t You Be My Neighbor, last year’s sublime Mr. Rogers documentary. It topped my list of movies for 2018 and was a masterpiece of emotion, rawness, and the power of Rogers’ life and ethos and the spiritual impact it had on others. Even the above, quiet scene has a twin scene in Won’t You Be My Neighbor that is more emotive and soul cleansing.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a messy, beautiful, quiet and subtle film, not about Fred Rogers, but about the process of grief, about the process of forgiveness and letting go of the past. It falls short at times, and succeeds at others, but ultimately the effort put forth to tell that story and convey the message of Mr. Rogers is one I’m glad to have experienced for two more hours.
7.5 / 10
That Good Film
- Hanks’ and Rhys’ quiet, yet striking, performances
- Music score with numerous odes and uses of music from Rogers’ actual show
- Beautiful themes of forgiveness found throughout
- Messy and sloppy narrative structure that takes you out of the film
- Suffers living in the shadow of the Won’t You Be My Neighbor documentary
- Over-wrough soap opera moments peppered throughout
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