New from Andrea Thompson on The Young Folks: TIFF 2019 Movie Review: Tom Hanks makes A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood a Place We’d All Like to Call Home

The fact that the biographical drama A
Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
exists shows just how hungry we
are for what the man at its center represented. Fred Rogers, or Mr.
Rogers, as the public knew him, radiated kindness and understanding,
making him and the show that made him famous, Mr. Rogers’
, a beloved staple for generations of viewers. A
Beautiful Day
not only has to live up to his legacy, but the
documentary that was released to much acclaim barely a year ago,
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Tom Hanks bears
only a slight resemblance at best to the man he’s playing, but he was
born to play this role nevertheless. Hanks is one of the most popular
actors working today, yet his almost total lack of controversy makes
him the best kind of safe bet. His general lack of scenery-chewing
allows his skill to shine in a quieter, yet still deeply satisfying
fashion. Showy he’s not, but his power is impossible to deny in films
as wide-ranging as Splash and Cast Away. It makes him
the perfect actor to not just play Fred Rogers, but somehow replicate
what his presence meant.

So no pressure
right? You wouldn’t think so, not with the way director Marielle
Heller and screenwriters Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster rise
to the challenge. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood begins
on the set of the show itself, where Hanks quickly proves
irresistible as he slips effortlessly into the role, ritual sweater
and sneaker changes and all. He speaks of “his friend Lloyd,” aka
Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), a fictionalized version of journalist Tom
Junod, who wrote the Esquire article the film is based on and found
his life transformed by his time with Mr. Rogers.

As Hanks shows us a
picture of Lloyd looking a bit the worse for wear, he speaks of how
someone “has hurt Lloyd, and not just on his face.” It’s a
humorous take on what’s to come, but things get serious when Mr.
Rogers switches it up by speaking directly to us about something even
the best of us can struggle with – forgiveness. Or as Hanks puts
is, a “decision we make to release the feelings of anger we have.”
Love makes everything, but especially forgiveness, more complicated,
and we learn that Lloyd has love to spare, both for his infant son,
his wife Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson). He also has a great deal of
anger towards his father Jerry (Chris Cooper), which makes him less
than receptive to Jerry’s attempts to make amends.

When Lloyd is told
by his editor to write a short profile on Mr. Rogers, he at first
reacts with cynical scorn about having to write a “puff piece.”
But how long can anyone hold on to such skepticism around someone
like Mr. Rogers? Lloyd puts up his best efforts, and it’s not
entirely difficult to see why. Someone who has seen much of the worst
in people would be slow to believe that such sincerity could exist,
and it’s not always easy for those who work for the guy. As Lloyd
gets to the set, Fred has been chatting up a kid for way longer than
his alotted time, prompted a crew member to dryly ask, “We can’t
fire him, can we?”

As Lloyd gradually
forms a friendship with his interviewee, A Beautiful Day in the
deftly sidesteps the schmaltz to give us a genuinely
moving portrait of sincerity. Nor does it skimp on the very real
darkness present in every human being, including Rogers himself. As
his wife Joanne (Maryann Plunkett) puts it, her husband works every
day to be who he is. “If you think of him as a saint, his way of
being is unattainable,” she explains. Heller also pays tribute to
the show itself, even using sequences displaying how magazines like
the one Lloyd writes for are made, and even a hallucination where
Lloyd finds himself on the set itself, finally able to express the
pain he’s been feeling for years.

Similarly, the
screening I attended was full of press and industry types who are
typically the epitome of tough sells. Yet there were sniffing and
tears at multiple moments, and when Hanks at one point asks for a
minute of silence in a scene at a restaurant, not only do the other
patrons oblige him, the entire theater did as well. Such a reaction
most likely requires the heavy fictionalizing the movie employs, yet
it’s impossible to deny the heavy truths and heartfelt acknowledgment
of just how difficult it can be to live so gently in the now retro
environment of 1998. Such discussions are needed even more in a time
when putting each other down seems to be rewarded at the highest

from Andrea Thompson – The Young Folks

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