A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019)

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on November 23, 2019 @ tonymacklin.net.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is an ode to decency. But it's one of those movies in which the two leading actors are better than the film.

That's not to say that the film isn't effective. At its best, it makes you feel and think. But it also too often slips into contrivance and sentimentality.

When it shines it is because of the performances of Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers, the renowned host of an iconic television program for children, and Matthew Rhys as Lloyd Vogel, investigative reporter for Esquire magazine.

Thank the acting gods for Tom Hanks. Although he may not totally represent the actual Fred Rogers, he does provide singular clarity and credibility to his role. It is fundamental Hanks, in its humanity. I imagine the actual Fred Rogers would admire what Hanks has done for him.

Fred Rogers was many things. Hanks deftly focuses on his ability to listen, and even more - to hear. And when the writers give him sentimentality, he can turn it into true sentiment. It is ironic that this year's Best Actor Oscar may come down to Hanks portraying a figure of light against Joaquin Phoenix, portraying a figure of darkness. Sounds like an election.

Matthew Rhys has a challenging role as Lloyd Vogel, the writer who is assigned to do a 400-word article for Esquire magazine on Mr. Rogers. Lloyd has a reputation for being a cynical, hard-hitting writer, whom people don't want interviewing them. But none of that is in the movie. One line of dialogue reveals it.

Lloyd is angry and totally unforgiving towards his father Jerry (Chris Cooper), who walked out on him when he was a child, his sister, and his mother when she was dying. Rhys makes the evolution of his character generally believable. His serious facial expressions serve him well.

Susan Kelcphi Watson does nicely in a somewhat thankless role as Lloyd's loyal wife, who is home raising their infant child. But don't worry, the writers Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster have her able to install a car seat when Lloyd isn't able to.

Chris Cooper has to survive a plodding role as the father who is seeking a relationship with his son. He has to look glum most of the time.

Director Marielle Heller whiffs enough times to sometimes stall the crucial feeling of authenticity. Probably her least genuine scene is when passengers in a subway break into singing, Won't You Be My Neighbor? This is a choice between a natural scene and a contrived one. This supposedly happened in actuality, but hardly this way. Heller allows what should be a human moment to become a false one. The assemblage of passengers looks like they have just come from a casting call and have just taken their appointed places. Police over here, black people over there.

Heller also uses some unnecessary, awkward overhead shots, and transitions are at times bumpy.

But Tom Hanks is able to make most things come alive in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Even the worn hand puppets. Memories galore.

I relate to Old Rabbit. He's my kind of guy.

It's A Beautiful Hanks in the Neighborhood.

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