“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”
Release Date: November 22, 2019
Runtime: 109 mins
Directed by: Marielle Heller
Starring: Matthew Rhys
Susan Kelechi Watson
Few things in storytelling are worse than having an uninteresting and/or unlikeable protagonist. This is especially frustrating when a supporting character overshadows the main character.
The recently released Mister Rogers movie, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” has this problem. For reasons I can at least partially understand, Rogers is not the central character in the film. The writers clearly wanted to steer away from the traditional biopic formula and chose to make Rogers help someone through an emotional problem using his iconic positivity and focus on empathy.
The issue comes from the fact that the guy he is helping is bland and unlikeable. The main conflict he is having with his father could have been interesting if it were not almost entirely presented in about the most standard way possible. To put it simply, any time Mister Rogers is on screen, the movie works. When he is not on screen, which is a good half of the time, the movie is mind-numbingly boring.
“A Beautiful Day” is careful to not depict Rogers as a saint. It is clear he always has to make a conscious choice to be a good person. He is not at some moral level we sinful heathens could never hope to attain. He embodies the best of humanity, but he is very much still human. The fact that it develops his character so well makes it all the more frustrating we are following a far less interesting character much of the time.
Tom Hanks is, of course, excellent as the beloved children’s show host. Though he does not look particularly like the real man, his performance is still extremely convincing. From the moment he showed up for the first time all the way through to the end, I could not help but smile any time he was around.
Matthew Rhys and Chris Cooper are both great actors whom I have seen fantastic work from in the past. Their performances here are by no means bad, but they do not have much to work with. I do not believe I had seen Susan Kelechi Watson in anything else before, but she did an admirable job as well.
Several of the song choices did not fit at all, in my opinion. The opening scene has Mister Rogers more or less filming an episode of the show. It cuts from that to an establishing shot in New York City with a generic soft rock song from the early 2000s playing over it. It felt quite strange to me then. It felt unnatural to me if that makes sense. A similar moment happened later in what is essentially the emotional climax of the movie. That time it felt condescending and emotionally manipulative.
I think “A Beautiful Day” is probably worth seeing if you are a fan of Mister Rogers or have heard good things, but I would not rush out to see it in theaters.
I would suggest anyone who wanted to see this movie also check out last year’s spectacular documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor.” It takes simultaneously a far more in-depth and wide-scoping look at Rogers’ life and the impact he left on the people he met, the children who watched his show and the world in general.