Following the surprise success of the 2018 biographical documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” the world has gone Mr. Rogers crazy.
Much as he and his television show were a salve to children during challenging times of life, adults confronting climate change, political discord and the #metoo movement seem to need his calm, positive and gentle outlook on life.
Mr. Rogers quotes are everywhere on the Internet, merchandise with red cardigan sweaters is flying off the shelves, and the documentary went on to earn more than $22 million – making it last year’s highest grossing doc by almost $10 million.
Naturally, movie studios began to hunt for the perfect Mr. Rogers story to tell.
Based on a 1998 Esquire profile entitled “Can You Say… Hero?” written by journalist Tom Junod, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” follows Tom (played by Matthew Rhys) as he met and interviewed Mr. Rogers, and by his own admission had his life changed.
Tom was a journalist known for digging up dirt on those he profiled and was convinced Mr. Rogers just couldn’t be as wonderful as what he presented. Spoiler alert – turns out he was.
The film is a beautiful story about forgiveness, fathers and sons, men and their friendships, and the need we all have to be vulnerable and accepted. For the cynics among you worried about facing two hours of saccharine group therapy, rest assured that director Marielle Heller (Can You Ever Forgive Me) deftly dodges what could have become a saturation of sweetness by telling Tom and Fred’s story within the structure of a show episode.
But the real story here is the performances. Matthew Rhys is fantastic in the difficult role of a sad, angry and disillusioned man hiding a scared and hurt boy inside who hopes the world really isn’t as terrible as he’s made it his mission to prove it is.
He spends most of the film conveying completely opposite emotions at the same time, and delivers a beautiful and nuanced emotional performance.
To say that Tom Hanks’ performance is excellent is a disservice to what he’s really done. This is not an imitation of Fred Rogers; it is an embodiment.
If Tom Hanks’ greatest gift as the everyman of our time is his ability to become any man, he uses it here to the fullest. After five minutes you will forget he’s NOT Mr. Rogers. The cadence, the syntax, the mannerisms, the physical presence are all Fred Rogers. It’s a performance that will undoubtedly earn an Oscar nomination.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a feel good, renew your faith in the human spirit and fellow man kind of movie.
It’s not to be missed.
Vicky Sparks is a Bright’s Grove native and movie critic for Global TV’s The Morning Show, which airs nationally on Fridays. Her Journal Reviews cover movies playing at Galaxy Cinemas Sarnia