A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Time Out says
Tom Hanks is a beaming, slightly cryptic Fred Rogers in a movie that's more about a journalist in need of a hug.
A hush comes over a New York City Chinese restaurant during the most magical moment of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. It’s a scene that could have come from director Marielle Heller’s previous film, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, in which she found pockets of coziness within a chilly city. Fred Rogers (a spookily serene Tom Hanks), forever “Mister Rogers” to fans, is chatting with Lloyd (The Americans’ Matthew Rhys, tightly wound), a distracted Esquire profiler whom he’s come to care about. Fred suggests that they remember, just for a minute, the people who “loved us into being.” Lloyd blinks but goes with it, and the apparatus of this Hollywood movie grinds to a halt. Heller gives us the full minute. You lean in; maybe you even close your eyes.
It’s a special film that makes you succumb, like that, to the comforts of memory and gratitude. Unfortunately, the scene is also a reminder that, even in the best-case scenario, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood was always going to be competing with a spell that was already conjured in a Pittsburgh TV studio on the cheap, week after week, for decades. There’s little excavation here, no impulse to complexify this strangest of celebrities, a gifted listener and child whisperer who calmed adults just as effectively. (Morgan Neville’s inspiring 2018 documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? went further into Rogers’s methods and mission.) Hanks, in his twinkly-eyed wheelhouse, is supportive—it’s a supporting role—while Rhys becomes the movie’s little boy, hopefully resolving his daddy issues in time to write the big cover story.
The film doesn’t know how cute it wants to be. Shots of Manhattan’s 1998 skyline arrive in the form of a colorful diorama, just like the ones on Mr. Rogers’s show, but that gesture feels too on-the-nose, not to mention boring. It may be that journalist Tom Junod, on whom the Lloyd character is based, isn’t enough of a dramatic fulcrum; he’s happily married and professionally successful. Rhys does what he can with the role (having the sour, belligerent Chris Cooper play your absentee father must help immensely), but a more courageous movie would have accommodated Fred Rogers’s late-career triumph, when he turned post–9/11 anxieties into a teachable moment. “Anything mentionable is manageable,” Hanks offers in the film’s wisest words. It’s good advice, but hardly the guiding impulse of the script.
Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf
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