McCoy on Movies: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

McCoy on Movies: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

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Tom Hanks portrays Mister Rogers in a timely story of kindness triumphing over cynicism, based on the true story friendship between a jaded magazine writer and America's most beloved neighbor.

 

“Hey kids – if this was a Yeezy 350 Boost, I might tell you how to toss it on eBay to make a profit with which you could start a nice savings account!” Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks) strikes a familiar pose in a scene from director Marielle Henner’s inspired by true events biopic A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD. Credit: Lacey Terrell © 2019 CTMG, Inc. All rights reserved.

 

WATCH THE TRAILER(S) HERE:


 

KEY CAST MEMBERS: Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Chris Cooper, Susan Kelechi Watson, Christine Lahti, Wendy Makenna, Enrico Colantoni, Tammy Blanchard, Noah Harpster and Maryann PlunkettDIRECTOR(S): Marielle Heller

 
THE BACK STORY: Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) is a journalist for Esquire magazine who’s used to doing hard-hitting, investigative pieces that often leave the subjects of his stories, much like a James Bond martini, a bit shaken if not internally stirred. So, when his boss (Christine Lahti) assigns him to write a 400 word piece on children’s television show host Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks), he’s a bit miffed to say the least. 

Then again, Lloyd’s negative predilection to get to dig deep to find the dirt on people might have something to do with his own issues. He’s still very mad at his dad (Chris Cooper) – whom he prefers to call by his first name of Jerry – for what he did when his wife/Lloyd’s mom got sick. And now that he’s got a newborn son of his own with his wife (Susan Kelechi Watson), he’s feeling a bit of pressure not to pass along any of his own pain to his offspring. 

Thus, what happens when a cynical, depressed reporter is asked to spend extended time with perhaps the most upbeat, positive person in the world? Something that is definitely going to not fit into 400 words but definitely may touch plenty of hearts in theaters nationwide. 
 
THE REVIEW: Inspired by true events biopics often take liberties with the facts of their subject matter, omitting certain controversial details, adding characters or sometimes straight up just diverting from the facts for the sake of the story the filmmaker wants to tell. And given the success of 2018’s documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, putting a well-known actor like Tom Hanks in the role of playing a beloved cultural icon like Fred Rogers could be a recipe for disaster if not done well with a compelling story.Anyone debating whether or not to see A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, however, should have no such concern – for the film is easily one of the finest releases of 2019.

Neighborhood‘s storytelling, under the direction of Marielle Henner (2018’s Can You Ever Forgive Me?), is almost like watching an episode of Rogers’ beloved television show itself – a simple yet genius move that brings the story to life. Instead of digging deep into its subject’s personal life (that aforementioned documentary does exist, after all), the film shows how the relationship between Vogel – based on Esquire writer Tom Junod who’s article served as a basis for Neighborhood – and Rogers. In doing so, it showcases the reasons Rogers became and remains an inspiration to millions of people throughout North America: In talking with Vogel about what drives him, Rogers works Vogel through his myriad of problems, making the writer learn about him but more importantly, himself.

Of course, this wouldn’t happen without Heller’s excellent direction that incorporates elements of both Rogers’ show and Hanks’ full immersion into the role. From his voice affectations and mannerisms to his legendary calm tone of speaking and self-deprecation, Hanks does about a fine a job as you’d hope for in a portrayal of a beloved figure without crossing into saint territory (which the movie directly addresses). Hanks’ ability to channel Rogers own approach to tough subject matter shows how his wisdom rings true for both children and adults to this day.

Rhys, however, may arguably deliver the strongest performance in the film, giving his reporter a layered depth to serve as the canvas on which Rogers’ true magic is fully revealed. Rogers hoped to create healthy positive adults instead of the type of adult Rhys’ character is: angry and wrongs done to him and unable to let it go, cynical, distrustful and afraid they’ll screw things up worse than their parents did. (Sound like anyone you know in your own life?) In showcasing the juxtaposition between the two, Heller crates a walking, talking exercise in a lesson typical of an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood with her two male leads playing their parts perfectly. Strong supporting turns by the always strong Cooper and Watson further complete the exercise, the latter’s enthusiasm for life and peace playing well against Cooper’s apologetic manchild father trying to make amends.

All things considered, the thing that will stay with you after the film is over is how dedicated Rogers was to making the world a better place, no small feat in a world where so many of us let so many things destroy our happiness. An atypical film in a cinematic landscape filled with remakes, the perennial sex and violence and hokey family fare that often misses the mark,  A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood proves that good people still exist in the world – and good movies about them do, too.

 
OVERALL RATING (OUT OF FOUR POSSIBLE BUCKETS OF POPCORN): 

 
 
Tabari McCoy
Columnist - Tabari McCoy is Cincy Chic's movie critic. An award-winning stand-up comedian who also works as the public relations director at Cincinnati Museum Center, Tabari McCoy is the creator of McCoy on Movies, a blog about movies for film fans. The blog is written by someone who also likes movies that is smart enough to know his opinion isn't always the right one but is willing to express that opinion in public. McCoy also used to review movies for his college paper and a major metropolitan publication, so that helps add to his "street cred." Contact him at tmccoy@cincychic.com. You can also check out more of his work on his blog at McCoyonMovies.BlogSpot.com and follow him on Twitter at @tabarimccoy.

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