The first thing you need to know about “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is that it’s not quite what you may be expecting, based on the trailers and other marketing materials. The second thing you need to know about this film is that it’s still pretty great.
Based on a 1998 “Esquire” magazine article, “Beautiful Day” gets us up close and personal with writer Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), who gets an assignment from his editor to write a short piece about legendary children’s show host Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks). Lloyd, a hard-nosed investigational journalist, interviews Rogers, looking for a darker truth beneath Mr. Rogers’ positive exterior.
As they spend time together, Rogers and Lloyd become friends. At the same time, Lloyd’s interaction with Rogers influences him to confront his fractured relationship with his father, Jerry (Chris Cooper). The result is a story all about accepting others and healing broken families and wounded people.
I went into this movie expecting a story focused on Mr. Rogers, something more along the lines of a standard biopic. But this is really Lloyd’s story, although Rogers does play a huge role in it.
Because it’s Lloyd’s story, the actor playing Lloyd really has to be on his game and Rhys delivers. He plays Lloyd as a man who’s so wound up inside from holding in his pain, that on occasions when he does get to smile, it feels like a major accomplishment. The weight of this film falls on his shoulders and he bears it ably.
Rhys, of course, gets fantastic support from Hanks, who will likely get an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Rogers. But Cooper also turns in a very moving performance as a father trying to heal a lifetime of hurt he’s caused his son. Susan Kelechi Watson does a great job playing Andrea, Lloyd’s wife, as a woman doing everything she can to raise an infant child while helping hold her husband together. There’s not a weak performance in the cast.
“Beautiful Day” was directed by Marielle Heller, who’s done good work on other character-driven films. Here, she gives Lloyd the space he needs to show the audience that he’s working through his issues. She keeps out of the actors’ way and doesn’t intrude into emotional scenes by using needless camera movement or crazy angles. She gives the story room to blossom, and blossom it does.
As far as flaws go, there’s not too much to talk about here. The film uses models of cityscapes, like the opening credits of “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood,” to transition from location to location. It’s a little distract and breaks your suspension of disbelief at first, but you get used to it as the film rolls on. Other than that and an ending that feels a little too much like a studio-mandated formulaic ending, there’s not much to complain about.
“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” isn’t what you may be expecting. But what you get is still a fantastic, moving story full of great acting. If you’re looking for a straight-forward biographical story about Fred Rogers, check out last year’s “Won’t You Be My Neighbor.” If you’re looking for an emotional rich narrative that will invite you to think about how you deal with your pain and be more accepting of other peoples’ flaws, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is hard to beat.
4 ½ Indy Fedoras out of 5
MPAA Rating: PG