Coming to theatres to delight and remind us all of our potential from director Marielle Heller and Sony Pictures with A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD.
Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) is a writer who is making a name for himself and it’s not a good one. As no one else will work with him, Esquire editor Ellen (Christine Lahti) gives him the only assignment left which is interviewing Mr. Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks). Unhappy with it, wife Andrea (Susan Watson) reminds him that Mr. Rogers is an icon and to “please don’t ruin my childhood”.
Grumpy about all of it, he meets with Mr. Rogers at the studio where he makes his children’s television show. Watching his interaction with others makes Lloyd uncomfortable but for more reasons than he is ready to grasp. When it only lasts a few moments, Lloyd packs up his wife and young newborn son and its off to sister Lorraine’s (Tammy Blanchard) wedding. Also at the wedding his Jerry Vogel (Chris Cooper), Lloyd’s estranged father.
An outburst at the wedding leaves both Lloyd and Jerry roughed up and at the next interview with Mr. Rogers, he notices. Talking it out makes Lloyd even more uncomfortable and can’t seem to get away fast enough. That’s when Lloyd realizes that things from his past are interfering with his present life. When Jerry tries to reach out but he just can’t get past his anger.
Throwing himself into the article, Lloyd watches Mr. Rogers and how he speaks to people, the life topics he covers and his outlook on life. Trying to grasp it all, a family issue means that Lloyd might have the opportunity to see firsthand what Mr. Rogers has been trying to tell and show him about kindness and forgiveness.
Sometimes we all just need one person to believe in us!
Hanks as Mr. Rogers is completely stunning and leaves an imprint in the heart. Because I come from a generation that knew about Mr. Rogers, I cannot think of one actor besides Hanks that could have done this film. I believe so much in what Lloyd’s wife says about not ruining our childhood and that could have easily happened. Instead, Hanks reminds us so much of why we embraced Mr. Rogers and why we hold his and our memories so dear. The calmness in the midst of so much sadness in Lloyd’s life allows us to open our hearts even further to the story we see on the screen. But do we really expect anything different from Hanks? He gives us all something to think about through his performances and in being Mr. Rogers, we owe him that much.
Rhys as Lloyd is a man who is just living life one moment at a time and it all comes from a childhood anger that he carries like a bag of bricks. Everyone seems to give him a pass with the anger he carries for his father but, as with anyone who lives for anger, the pass is about to expire. He can’t fathom how Mr. Rogers can keep his heart so open to others and feels that “Mr. Rogers” is a television persona. It’s when he puts the bag of bricks down does Lloyd have a chance to truly connect with those who continue, through it all, to love him. Of course, Mr. Rogers isn’t about to leave Lloyd to do all of it on his own.
Watson as wife Andrea accepts Lloyd for the emotional roller coaster he always seems to be on. With a new baby to tend to, she wants more for her family in the way of connection and love. It is easy to believe Watson’s performance since it is very similar to Beth from the television drama series This Is Us. Blanchard as sister Lorraine understands Lloyds anger but in her own life is trying to make different choices. She may have made her own mistakes (such as marriages) but Blanchard shows a forgiving nature in the midst of it all.
Cooper as dad Jerry is rough around the edges and not very good at showing remorse or affection. Lloyd can’t even look at him without remembering pain and Cooper plays a man who is not only dealing with issues but trying to find a way of saying ‘I’m sorry’. Cooper has the amazing ability of playing roles that have so much depth to them once you get past the gruffness as with Jerry.
Other cast include: Maryann Plunkett as Joanne Rogers, Enrico Colantoni as Bill Isler, Wendy Makkena as Dorothy, Noah Harpster as Todd, Carmen Cusack as Margy, Maddie Corman as Lady Aberlin and Daniel Krell as Mr. McFeely.
A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD is not exactly what I expected. Yes, it’s about Mr. Rogers and yet it isn’t. It is Lloyd Vogel’s story about Mr. Rogers and how spending time with him changes everything. Then again most of us already know that it can happen because, as with my own experiences, it has before.
Mr. Rogers embraces Lloyd, whether he likes it or not, to try and show that we need one another. Being patient isn’t something Lloyd seems to have but it is something Mr. Rogers seems to have in abundance. The two most unlikely people to come together happens slowly throughout the film – and mainly due to the persistence and belief from Mr. Rogers.
Watching Rhy’s Lloyd go through his struggle is at times heartbreaking and Hanks as Mr. Rogers almost encourages us to feel that heartbreak. There is acceptance and forgiveness in each frame of the film and, to be honest, it also felt as if we didn’t we would let down Mr. Rogers!
It is the perfect time of year for A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD and for reasons that are plain but I’ll go ahead and mention them anyway. This is a film about listening to one another, offering help in any way that would ease pain, be there for those we love, forgive just as easily as we hold grudges and always embrace a couple of seconds longer just so the people we care about know that they are not alone.
In the end – we could all use a little kindness!