"A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" is the movie America needs right now. Just go see it and don't even bother reading the rest of this review. It's okay if you have no idea what the movie is about. Really. Believe me.
In "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood," Tom Hanks gives the performance of a lifetime as Mr. Rogers, a beloved American children's TV icon. Hanks inhales and exhales Rogers, and somehow manages to ice the cake with his own unique Hanksian genius. Fred Rogers was a devout Christian. He demonstrated, rather than preached, Christianity. The Mr. Rogers of ABDITN is a saint, in the very best way. He brings joy and hope to those around him, often in surprising ways. And, yes, that is why you should see "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood." That part of the movie earns a 10 out of 10.
The rest of the movie is standard-issue soap opera, and it's more of a 7 out of 10. Matthew Rhys stars as Lloyd Vogel, a cynical, muckraking journalist who is assigned to profile Mr. Rogers. I don't know if Rhys is a good actor. Maybe director Marielle Heller told him to mope so that the viewer would know that Lloyd is a tortured soul. In any case, Rhys mopes. He looks sad and unkempt. He is abrupt with others.
In real life, people who have hidden wounds often do not look sad all the time. Rhys' one-note performance doesn't open any windows of insight into what it's like to have had an abusive parent.
Susan Kelechi Watson plays Lloyd's wife Andrea. These two never convey the chemistry of a married couple in a complicated relationship. Watson looks picture-perfect in every scene. Her makeup is perfect; her clothes are pristine. She's supposed to be playing an attorney and new mother. Totally not believable to anyone who has spent any time with a new, working mother.
Watson's and Rhys' shared scenes left me cold and confused. What are they to each other?
Chris Cooper plays Lloyd's abusive dad, Jerry, who comes back into Lloyd's life. Again, I just didn't feel that anything real was at stake in these scenes.
The domestic strife scenes in this movie struck me as paint-by-numbers, as someone writing in a writing class, someone who hasn't really lived or felt the material but knew that a thrown fist and an illness diagnosis would get paint-by-numbers reactions from the audience.
My other concern is more about substance than style. The movie sends the message that if you are nice to people, even people who have proven themselves to be unreliable, those people will be nice to you back.
In fact in real life one of the key lessons of being abused is "Don't allow yourself to be vulnerable to abusive people, and yes sometimes you have to walk away and not look back."
So, no, the rest of "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" does not live up to Tom Hanks' terrific performance, or Mr. Rogers living out of Christian values. But that's okay. Go see the movie anyway. And bring a hankie.