An interesting person does not always make for an interesting movie. Mr (Fred) Rogers is the perfect example of this. The documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” captured the life, essence and appeal of Mr Rogers perfectly, showcasing his impact on American children’s television but lacked any bite or real hook of interest. The documentary had the benefit of documenting a life but this movie tries to tell “a story” and this is where the flaw lies.
The plot is very simplistic. Matthew Rhys’ Lloyd Vogel is a cookie-cutter cynical journalist with a broken background that plays far too much as a stereotype not to see the character development from his opening scene. Once he is told to interview Mr Rogers for a magazine piece he naturally believes is beneath him, you can see where the film is going from a mile away.
This predictability means you are just watching the story unfold, knowing full well where the plot will take you. There are attempts to try something different but these are not always that successful. Dream sequences, hallucinations and half-flashbacks try to add some depth to the plot but it just a thin covering for a story that is far too shallow and painfully simple.
This doesn’t mean the movie is a complete failure though. The saving grace, as you’d expect, is Tom Hanks. Hanks has a magic touch and he brings it to “Beautiful Day” when it is needed the most. His version of Mr Rogers is not without flaws but is as perfect as an actor can manage and when the character is on-screen, the movie becomes that much more compelling.
It also deals with some of the tragedy and heart-ache of the main characters very well. As predictable as the film is, there is still some emotional punch to the scenes and it is in using Mr Rogers as a delivery system that adds the effectiveness to those aspects of the movie.
It isn’t enough to stop you leaving the movie wondering why this man deserved a film at all. The documentary does a very good job of capturing who Mr Rogers is and the importance he has to American culture. This feels like sentimental fan-service and Oscar-bait for Hanks.
Overall, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood suffers from having a great central performance playing an iconic character with very little story to tell. What you get is a simplified, predictable tale of redemption and forgiveness that is sign-posted from the first ten minutes.
Rating – 3
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