(2019) (Matthew Rhys, Tom Hanks) (PG)
- QUICK TAKE:
- Drama: A hard-edged investigative journalist begrudgingly begins working on an article about a famous children's TV show host, only to find his life changed by his interactions with the pleasant and mild-mannered man.
- It's 1998 and Esquire Magazine investigative journalist Lloyd Vogel (MATTHEW RHYS) lives in New York with his wife, Andrea (SUSAN KELECHI WATSON), and their young son. Lloyd's sister, Lorraine (TAMMY BLANCHARD), is getting married yet once again, and Lloyd is thinking of skipping the event, mainly because his long-estranged father, Jerry (CHRIS COOPER), will be there with his wife, Dorothy (WENDY MAKKENA). Lloyd ends up attending, but ultimately gets into an argument with his dad and punches him in the face before someone else punches him in the face.
All of which -- along with his hard-nosed journalistic edge -- would make him seem the last person chosen to interview Fred Rogers (TOM HANKS) of "Mister Rogers Neighborhood" TV fame, but his editor insists and would like a four-hundred-word story on the man. Lloyd reluctantly heads off to Pittsburg but is instantly intrigued by Fred who appears just as nice in person as he does on the show, all of which, of course, arouses his suspicions that there's more than meets the eye.
But as Lloyd continues meeting Fred, he comes to realize the children's TV show host is exactly as advertised, all while Fred tries to help the journalist change his outlook not only about his father, but also life in general.
- OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
- Let's face it, much of the world has turned into a divisive, ugly place where many people simply seem unable to get along with others. Narrowed down to the U.S., most of that nowadays stems from political differences (and related narrow-mindedness, ignorance and herd mentality), exacerbated by the shield, if you will, of social media that allows people to spew their anger and hatred without any sort of face-to-face confrontation.
And with it unlikely to get better anytime soon, I feel the need to paraphrase and take Bonnie Tyler's lyrics out of context and state, "We need a hero...And it's gotta be soon...And he's gotta be larger than life." Well, ladies and gents, we can't count on Superman, so we need someone real like -- wait for it -- Fred Rogers.
"Mister Rogers from that kids' show?" I hear you asking now. Yes, that Mr. Rogers, and while he might have passed away sixteen years ago at the age of 74, his legacy of kindness, acceptance of others and peace, love and understanding lives on. All of that was explored in the wonderful 2018 documentary "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" -- that inexplicably didn't even earn a Best Documentary nomination despite glowing reviews from critics and moviegoers alike -- and continues in the equally terrific narrative feature, "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood."
One can only hope this offering from director Marielle Heller doesn't get snubbed like its predecessor because it's pretty great and the sort of cinematic tonic the world needs to see right about now. What's surprising about the pic, though, is that Rogers (played by Tom Hanks in an Oscar-worthy role) isn't the main character.
Instead, the film -- inspired by real-life events and set in 1998 -- is about a world-weary investigative reporter, Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), who's shocked when his Esquire Magazine editor instructs him to give her a 400-word article on the man. And that isn't just because he looks down with his recently bloodied nose at what he thinks are fluff pieces of journalism. It's also due to the fact that his schnozzle took a return punch after he landed one squarely in the middle of his long-estranged father's (Chris Cooper) face at his sister's wedding.
This, of course, doesn't go unnoticed by Fred upon Lloyd's visit to the set of his TV show that calls Pittsburg home. The reporter doesn't want to talk about it, and Fred honors that, but you can see that he truly cares. And from experiencing that and upon watching how the man operates, Lloyd decides there has to be something more to this man than meets the eye as no one can be that compassionate and caring without some ulterior motive or skeleton in the closet.
Accordingly, and while still dealing with his dad -- that puts a strain on his marriage to Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson) with whom he has a newborn -- Lloyd decides he must dig deeper into the man. But as he does, Fred, in his unassuming way, slowly but surely starts doing his own subtle form of digging into the young man to help him release the poison that's obviously affecting him and his worldview.
Heller -- who works from a screenplay by Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster (that's inspired by Esquire journalist Tom Junod's 1998 article "Can You Say... Hero?") -- shoots parts of the film in tight close-ups that not only show the pain in Lloyd's life, but also the kindness in Fred's, and that only makes the film all the more affecting, engaging, sweet and entertaining.
Likely to leave many a viewer with a smile on their lips, a tear in their eye and a warm fuzzy feeling all over, "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" is just the sort of quiet, unassuming hero all of us need at this turbulent point in history. Let's just hope that enough people see and are affected by it to make a difference. A loving tribute to Mister Rogers and all he stood for, the film rates as a 7.5 out of 10.
Reviewed November 13, 2019 / Posted November 22, 2019
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