Review: A Beautiful Day in The Neighborhood — Movies for the Rest of Us with Bill Newcott

A Beautiful Day in The Neighborhood

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Run Time: 1 hour 48 minutes

Rating: PG

Stars: Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Chris Cooper, Susan Kelechi Watson

Writers: Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster

Director: Marielle Heller


We live in mean times. So mean, in fact, that these days the meanest of the mean boast openly of their meanness. If you’re not at least a little mean, we’re told, no one will take you seriously.

It’s especially true in the movies. The meanest curs in Marvel comic movies are invariably the films’ most interesting characters. Disney has spun off a whole genre of villain movies that seeks to explain just why those evildoers are so mean and absolve them of their meanness. And the Joker? Mean and loving it.

You know what I mean?

So what are we to do with A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, a film with not a mean millisecond in its length; a film that celebrates kindness, forgiveness, compassion, faith, and innocence with reckless abandon?

Here’s what you do: You embrace it. You treasure it. You take your family to it and drive your friends to the theater door, if necessary.

Because if A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood does not move you on some level, you should check your pulse. And double-check your humanity.

The big surprise of this film, based on a true story, is that the most famous figure in it is actually a supporting character. Sure, Tom Hanks’ portrayal of Fred Rogers — TV’s kindly Mister Rogers to generations of preschoolers — is the main attraction here. Hanks’ portrayal of Rogers, whose Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood eased the childhood angst of untold millions of toddlers, is a walking Beatitude: the meek, the merciful, the peacemaker. And like the real Fred, the character draws power from those attributes, the power to forgive where others can’t — and the power to inspire others to forgive themselves.

But the central character here is actually a magazine writer named Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), a fictional version of Tom Junod, on whose Esquire article the script is based. We meet him as a hard-driving investigative reporter whose specialty is stripping public figures naked to reveal their secret foibles in the most vicious manner possible. He’s also a mess: a hard-drinking, short-tempered cynic who sees his subjects as raw meat and his wife (Susan Kelechi Watson) as little more than an affectionate inconvenience. Towards his father (Chris Cooper) he harbors undisguised hatred with a rage that explodes into a fistfight at a wedding.

Lloyd is, of course, appalled when his editor assigns him a puff piece on Fred Rogers, and he approaches the job like it’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to him.

Then, in a Pittsburgh television studio, Lloyd falls almost immediately under Mister Rogers’ spell. Director Marielle Heller dispenses with any sense of resistance on Lloyd’s part, because quite simply by all accounts this is precisely the way Fred Rogers affected people. The most jaded of visitors, simply by being pulled ever so slightly in Fred Rogers’ orbit, felt the warmth of kindness that he radiated.

But that doesn’t mean Lloyd is comfortable with this feeling. The meatiest passages of A Beautiful Day in The Neighborhood come as Lloyd’s soul is troubled by his repeated encounters with a truly selfless man. Fred doesn’t just project kindness to Lloyd; he invites the writer into his own life and in the process begins to infill the voids in Lloyd’s soul.

That’s the power of A Beautiful Day in The Neighborhood: Not for one second does the film deny the dynamism of anger, the strangely irresistible appeal of cynicism. Here, though, those twin demons run full-speed into a wall of charity and acceptance, and although the collision is momentarily messy, in the end there’s no contest: The Golden Rule doesn’t just repel the Law Of The Jungle, it absorbs it, dissolves it, neutralizes it.

Like Fred Rogers himself, A Beautiful Day in The Neighborhood swarms with gentle wonders, most memorably the film’s establishing shots of Pittsburgh and Manhattan.  They’re not the usual stock footage, but instead fanciful constructions, extensions of the miniature neighborhood that opened each episode of Fred Rogers’ show.

Significantly, A Beautiful Day in The Neighborhood never shies away from the essential truth at the core of Fred Rogers’ goodness: As an ordained Presbyterian minister, his view of the inherent value of all people, young and old, good and bad, is rooted in his Biblical understanding of the nature of God. One of the film’s most mesmerizing moments is one of its quietest as Fred, a dedicated swimmer, does laps in the local pool, praying for each individual in his life by name.

As the troubled writer, Rhys invites us along for his midlife awakening. His face at the start seems set in wax, fixed by anger and barely conceived rage. Slowly, he softens in the warmth of Fred Rogers’ humanity. By the end he seems like a prisoner released, liberated by the realization that although he is now a better person, even   in his most degenerate state he was, in the eyes of one good man, of infinite value. Rhys, the galvanizing star of TV’s The Americans, overplays neither Lloyd’s misery nor his revelation; his is a miraculously subliminal performance. As Lloyd’s defensive and flawed father, Cooper masterfully summons the classic parental lament: “Where did I go wrong? Oh, yeah…”

You may well find a tear leaking from A Beautiful Day’s first frames, and the weepies will most likely reassert themselves through the beatific conclusion. And as you leave the theater, you just might imagine the hand of a certain red-sweatered fellow on your sleeve, gently whispering into your ear, “It’s okay to feel this way.”

Featured image: Matthew Rhys and Tom Hanks in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Photo by Lacey Terrell. Copyright ©2019 CTMG, Inc. All rights reserved.


News of the Week: Tom Hanks Types, Bette and Joan Fight, and Everyone’s Confused about Johnny Appleseed

Uncommon Type

Tom Hanks loves his typewriters (he owns over 100 of them), and now he has a book coming out about the machines. Well, sort of. His collection of short stories, titled Uncommon Type: Some Stories, will feature 17 tales that somehow involve typewriters. It hits bookstore shelves (and virtual bookstore shelves) in October.

The book came about after Hanks wrote a short story, “Alan Bean Plus Four,” for The New Yorker in 2014.

In other Tom Hanks news this week, he sent an espresso machine to the White House press corps.

Feud: Bette vs. Joan

This looks like a fun series. It’s a behind-the-scenes look at the legendary rivalry between Hollywood stars Bette Davis and Joan Crawford and the filming of their classic horror drama Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? It stars Susan Sarandon as Davis and Jessica Lange as Crawford, along with Judy Davis, Stanley Tucci, and Alfred Molina. It premieres this Sunday night on FX. Here’s the trailer.

Feud, by the way, is going to be an anthology series. The second season will be called Feud: Charles and Diana and will focus on the royal couple.

RIP Bill Paxton, Judge Joseph Wapner, Howard Leeds, and John Gay

One name missing from the “In Memoriam” segment at The Oscars last Sunday was Bill Paxton, who died the day before and couldn’t be included in the montage (Jennifer Aniston did mention him in her introduction, however). It’s amazing how many classic films this solid, dependable actor appeared in: Titanic, Aliens, Apollo 13, Twister, True Lies, Frailty, Tombstone, The Terminator, and Predator 2. He also starred in the Showtime series Big Love and appeared on shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hatfields & McCoys. He’s currently starring in the CBS drama Training Day and later this year can be seen in the Tom Hanks movie The Circle.

Paxton died from complications after heart surgery. He was 61. Here’s a young Paxton on a helpful stranger’s shoulders, waiting to see President Kennedy in Texas in November 1963.

Judge Joseph Wapner really started this whole “judge show” craze back in 1981, when he presided over The People’s Court. He stayed with the show until 1993. Before that, he was a judge for many years in the L.A. Superior Court and a municipal judge. Wapner passed away Sunday at the age of 97.

Howard Leeds was a veteran producer on such shows as The Brady Bunch, My Living Doll, The Bill Dana Show, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Diff’rent Strokes, and The Facts of Life, and a writer for those shows and others, including Meet Millie, The Red Skelton Hour, Bewitched, My Three Sons, Barney Miller, and Silver Spoons. He died at the age of 97 on February 11, though his death was first announced this week.

John Gay wrote the screenplay for the films The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, No Way to Treat a Lady, The Power, Separate Tables, and Run Silent, Run Deep, along with TV-movie remakes of Dial M For Murder, Captains Courageous, Shadow of a Doubt, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. He also wrote for shows like General Electric Theater, Playhouse 90, Kraft Theater, and the mini-series Fatal Vision.

Like Leeds, Gay passed away earlier this month but it wasn’t announced until this week. He was 92.

Newspaper Owner Can’t Give It Away

What do you do if you own a newspaper and want to retire but you can’t even give the newspaper away to someone? You sell it.

That’s what happened with the owner of the New Hardwick Gazette in Connecticut. Last year Ross Connelly held an essay contest. For only a $175 entry fee, you could enter the contest, with the winner getting ownership of the paper. But not enough people entered the contest to make it a success (he wanted 700 entries but only received 140). But one couple, Ray and Kim Small, saved the day (and the paper) by buying it outright. They took over the reins two weeks ago and promise to serve the community and keep the paper’s focus on local news.

By the way, Ray Small was actually one of the people who entered the contest.

This Week in History

Buffalo Bill Cody Born (February 26, 1846)

William Cody has often been called “America’s First Superstar” because of his long-running Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World shows.

Charles Lindbergh’s Baby Kidnapped (March 1, 1932)

The body of the famed aviator’s infant son, Charles Jr., was found on May 12. Bruno Richard Hauptmann was convicted of the kidnapping and murder after one of the most sensational trials in history. Saturday Evening Post Archives Director Jeff Nilsson has a fascinating look at the man who helped solve the case by examining the ladder Hauptmann used.

This Week in Saturday Evening Post History: Rockwell’s “The Rookie” Cover (March 2, 1957)

Boy in civilian clothes walks into baseball locker room
The Rookie
March 2,1957

It’s March, and that means we’re very close to baseball’s opening day. This March 2, 1957, cover by Norman Rockwell takes a look inside the Boston Red Sox locker room. The rookie in the suit is Massachusetts baseball star Sherman Stanford. The guys in the uniforms were real Red Sox team members, including the guy standing in the middle. That’s Ted Williams, even though Rockwell had to use a stand-in because Williams couldn’t make it to the studio that day.

National Pound Cake Day

Some things just go great together: peanut butter and jelly, cookies and milk, Norman Rockwell and The Saturday Evening Post. When I was a kid, I had another combo that I loved: pound cake and Pepsi.

I used to eat that all the time. I’d get a package of Sara Lee All-Butter Pound Cake (the one in the rectangular silver carton) and a bottle of Pepsi and pretty much eat the entire thing in one sitting while watching television. I don’t know how this combo came about (maybe my mom didn’t buy milk that week?), but it was delicious. I should try it again some time.

Tomorrow is National Pound Cake Day. Here’s a recipe for Lemon Pound Cake with Raspberry Sauce, and here’s one for Zion Canyon Lavender Pound Cake. You could make this classic Mama’s Pound Cake from Paula Deen or this Million Dollar Pound Cake. Note: The recipe is actually free.

Or you could just buy some from the fine people at Sara Lee. Nobody doesn’t like them! (And don’t forget the Pepsi.)

Postage stamp depicting Johnny Appleseed
via Wikimedia Commons

Next Week’s Holidays and Events

International Women’s Day (March 8)

This annual event “celebrates the social, economic, cultural, and political achievement of women.” And of course this year’s theme has a hashtag: #BeBoldForChange

Johnny Appleseed Day (March 11)

I bet you didn’t know there was a controversy involving Johnny Appleseed Day (if confusion over these holidays can be classified as a “controversy”). Some people celebrate it on September 26 because that was the birth date of John “Johnny Appleseed” Chapman, an American settler born in 1774. Others celebrate it on March 11 because he died on that day in 1845 (though even that is in dispute — some say March 18 and some say it was even a different year, 1847). But hey, why can’t we celebrate his life twice a year?