A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood ★★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

I've given less than stellar reviews before where one of my complaints was that you had to know the source material to enjoy the movie.

For A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD, I'm going to give it a pass, for exactly one reason. The parts of this movie that require knowing the source material are fundamentally based on reality.

This film is ostensibly about Mr. Rogers (and Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood), and I think that was clever. Mr. Rogers is one of the characters, yes, but the story is about how an adult who is sad and scared and angry can face those feelings and talk about them, and it uses Mr. Rogers as the lens to see that story and watch that transformation.

I think if you didn't understand this movie or Mr. Rogers, you could level a few complaints at it. The story within the story, the Vogel family drama, could be any family, and it could be any story. You could read some sinister undertones in Mr. Rogers that never seem to pay off.

If you have those complaints about this movie, I feel very bad for you. Not only did you not get the central messages of the movie at all, you may actually have a difficult time seeing the good in the world. Maybe, at the very least, you might be too focused on what's in the pixels in front of you to see what you're supposed to be seeing.

Yes, the Vogel family drama could have been anyone, or any family, having any trouble. That's the point. You're supposed to be able to see your own pain, your own fears, your own anger. You're supposed to see that Mr. Rogers made a connection with everyone around him - child or adult - and gently prodded them into understanding themselves a little better, accepting themselves with a little more grace.

Yes, you could read a tiny bit of subtly sinister undertones in Mr. Rogers. You might even think the way Tom Hanks played him was too muted for a powerhouse like Hanks. You might think the Mr. Rogers character was a little stilted, a little cringey, a little too off-key. The film goes to great lengths to try to help you understand. We are all human. Mr. Rogers is human. He feels angry, and sad, and frustrated. But Mr. Rogers makes the choice - every day, in every one of those moments - to be calm, and to have grace. He makes the choice to be on television despite not being a "typical" television host because he cares about the messages he's telling children (and adults).

This is a film about being good. It's about seeing the positive in the world even when the world is dark. It's about what you do with the mad that you feel.

One of the best things about this movie is that a bunch of the most touching scenes really happened. Much of the source material began with the original Esquire article (by Tom Junod, not Lloyd Vogel), and I highly recommend reading it. Mr. Rogers liked it, so I bet you will too.

I think this movie was acted pretty wonderfully across the board, with special mention of - of course - Tom Hanks and Matthew Rhys. The direction and script were also masterful. Especially so when you watch the deleted scenes; you can see what this movie could have looked like - a hokey soap-opera beating you about the head and shoulders with a message. Instead, we got a movie with a good soul that took the message of Mr. Rogers to heart: it still had a message, but it was understated and it believed in you, and it respected you enough to grasp it.

If I have one complaint about the technical merits of this movie, it's that they couldn't help but leave in the scene where Mr. Rogers breaks the fourth wall and just stares into your eyes. It was... unsettling. Not because I didn't like staring into Tom Hanks' eyes (I did), and not because I didn't like thinking about the message Mr. Rogers was delivering - stop for 1 minute and think about the people who loved you into being (I did). No, it was unsettling because other than fever-dreams brought on by exhaustion, the only times this movie dips into fantasy were when Mr. Rogers was... filming a fictional TV show. Breaking the fourth wall breaks the entire cohesiveness of the film as a contained semi-documentary, mostly-fictional story and it unsettled me.

But like, 1% unsettled.


p.s. Mr. Rogers also did - in fact - testify before congress as Tom Hanks re-enacted. He gave the Senators goosebumps and they changed their minds (it was 1969) about taking away 10 million dollars (50%) from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting aka PBS.

p.p.s. I should note that I don't actually know if Mr. Rogers liked the Esquire article. It said "Fuck" kind of a lot in one section. But Joanne Rogers is still alive and I suspect she would have asked them to not say that she and Mr. Rogers liked the article in the movie if they didn't like it in real life.

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