Even though I got a little rush every time I saw Tom Hanks step onto that set in the trailer for this film, I was still a little bit apprehensive about it because I feel like we already got such a great tribute to Mr. Rogers in last year’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor?. My worries were clearly unfounded as this lovely, well-crafted movie takes the viewer on an emotional journey – not unlike watching an episode of Mr. Rogers’s show – that follows a cynical adult who is tasked with profiling the beloved children’s television star. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a joy from start to finish, and it actually serves as a good companion piece to the 2018 documentary. If that film served as a look into Fred Rogers as a person, this one looks closer at his legacy and the very real impact he has on people.
Marielle Heller directs this movie in such a brilliant way, as she basically takes the purpose of the television show (to give children a safe, healthy avenue to deal with their feelings) and transforms it into a movie that’s made to give world-weary adults a safe, healthy avenue to deal with theirs. She’s also incredible at making some of the more earnest, sometimes silly moments in the film feel like genuine emotional flashpoints. There’s one scene in particular that’s on my mind that should not work nearly as well as it does, but Heller makes the most of it, and it’s incredibly moving.
Even though Tom Hanks gets the poster and the marketing all to himself, the real lead in this film is Matthew Rhys and he brings such a tremendous performance to the story. Did we ever give that man an Emmy? I certainly hope so, because he has such a great range and is so very good at acting, even when it’s not at full volume. It will also surprise no one that Tom Hanks is spectacular as Fred Rogers. One of the things I finally realized Tom Hanks does incredibly is acting past his own public perception and truly becoming the people he plays. It’s almost stereotypical to cast Tom Hanks as the figure that everyone loves and roots for, but he brings such a real sense of humanity and vulnerability to all of his performances.
Strangely enough, this story feels kind of like the antithesis of Joker? There are some similar story beats and character paths, but where I feel like this movie is such a breath air is that it’s not about just observing people’s brokenness – it’s about helping others along in their brokenness. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood almost seems like the answer to the problem posed in Joker – the only proper way to respond to darkness is with strength, mercy, and forgiveness. Any story about forgiveness and gentleness is welcomed in our times.