A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood with Tom Hanks Is Beautiful

“Won’t you be my neighbor?”

After a lifetime of watching movies one gets used to the experience of starting a film with higher expectations than the reality is able to deliver. Sometimes you know from the start, other times after the first plot twist that makes you wince.

Happy those moments when a movie you thought would be nice becomes marvelous. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is one of these.

I really didn’t expect a lot when Susie asked if I’d like to watch her Netflix video that had come a few days earlier. (She’s been busy with garden work and had another flick she was in the middle of.) I mean, I didn’t think it would be a waste of time, but my interest was driven more by curiosity than expectation.

I remember talking about the Mr. Rogers film we’d watched last year at the Zinema and how impressed I was with this unusual man. I also know that the films Tom Hanks chooses seldom let me down, so I decided to watch it while doing some paperwork and other mindless matters on my desktop.

This has been a somewhat long preface to my point. This is a story with heart. I am one of those people who gets moist eyes once in a while which watching movies. Poignant beauty gets to me. I cannot remember a film moistening my eyes more than this one (unless perhaps it was Beauty and the Beast, which turned on the eye-faucets several times.)

The narrative goes like this. Lloyd Vogel (played by Matthew Rhys) is a journalist who writes for Esquire. Famous for his poison pen, which bites like a rattlesnake, he’s asked by his editor to do a 400 word story on Mr. Rogers (Tom Hanks). He demurs. That’s not his kind of story. She replies that she’s trying to change his image and help him. Thus are our two main characters thrust together, with Vogel quite unhappy about it.

There’s a third side to the story, which we can call a broken love triangle — Vogel’s father Jerry (Chris Cooper). The beauty of this film is the manner in which Fred Rogers slowly uncovers the wounds at the heart of Lloyd’s broken heart and the broken relationship with his father who failed both his mother and he himself.

If Won’t You Be My Neighbor gave you a new appreciation for what Fred Rogers’s life work was all about, A Beautiful Day seals the deal. I can’t recommend this film enough. In this era of brokenness and bitterness, this story shows how patience, listening and love can effectively change the world far more than we realize, one broken heart at a time.

The screenplay itself is well crafted. It begins with a clip from Fred Rogers’ show showing what’s involved in making a magazine. The magazine happens to be Esquire — not exactly a children’s magazine — which threads through the film from beginning to end. Mr. Rogers then begins to share a few of his friends with his young viewers. When he opens a door to reveal Lloyd Vogel, with a wound on his nose from being punched in the face, it seems a bit different. This is how he introduces the story that becomes the basis for this film.

Hanks has had an amazing career and generated a lot of revenue for the Hollywood machine. He is #4 on the list in terms of cumulative film earnings — a modest 5.5 billion bucks. Splash, Forrest Gump, Saving Private Ryan, Apollo 13, Toy Story, Sully, Cast Away… He’s certainly shown us his range. I had a hard time imagining him pulling off Mr. Rogers. Ha! From the start he made it look easy.

The supporting cast (Susan Kelechi Watson as Lloyd’s wife, Maryann Plunkett as Fred’s and every other player in the film) was flawless as well. Kudos to Marielle Heller for bringing out the best in everyone in every way.

I give it 5 of 5 stars and recommend it to everyone.

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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