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.
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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.
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.