Last week I prematurely proclaimed that Charlie’s Angels, the reboot, was the worst major studio release of 2019. I have to take that back since, currently, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood earns that distinction. There are still a handful of 2019 major releases that I have yet to see, and there is a chance, such as with the movie Cats, that one or more may vie for worst movie of 2019.
First of all, while A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (directed by Marielle Heller, last year’s quite satisfying Can You Ever Forgive Me?) features Tom Hanks as the beloved, iconic TV star. Mr. Rogers, of the 70s, 80s and 90s, the movie is hardly about him. The film is about award winning journalist Tom Junod. However, Junod, whose Esquire cover story from the late 90s is what this film is “inspired” by, as we learn during the opening credits, reportedly hated the screenplay for this movie so much that he insisted that the name of his character be changed. It was, to Lloyd Vogel.
Lloyd Vogel is a figment of the screenwriters’ (Micah Fitzerman-Blue, Noah Harpster) imagination, as is much of the story.
At the beginning of the film, the viewer is treated to the opening scene of the Mr. Rogers Neighborhood TV show; theme song sung by Mr. Rogers (Hanks), the changing out of the jacket into a sweater and the taking off of the shoes and slipping into sneakers.
At the end of the song he announces to his pre-K audience (actually, the audience in the theater), “Did you see what special thing I brought you? It’s a picture board. It’s called a picture board because behind every door there is a picture.” Upon opening the final picture he says, “I’d like you to meet a new friend of mine, Lloyd Vogel. He’s having a hard time forgiving.”
With a flashback scene we are able to watch Lloyd accept a major award for his journalism. Sitting next to him is his editor, played by Oscar winner Christine Lahti in a wasted role.
We are then treated to a completely fraudulent scene that sets up the plot of the whole movie. Lloyd is at his sister’s wedding, gets into a fist fight with his father (Oscar winner Chris Cooper), and gets a visibly banged up nose, his black wife looking on, holding their baby. What’s wrong with all of that, you ask? Nothing, other than it is all contrived. Junod’s sister was never married, thus there was no wedding and there was no fight at a wedding. Junod was married to a white woman in real life and never had a child with her. The only child they had was one they adopted after Junod met Fred Rogers.
Junod/Vogel is tasked with doing a feature on “heroes.” He sets out to interview Rogers as one of the intended many “heroes” he will interview for his Esquire piece. Arriving at the Mr. Rogers Neighborhood set he is whisked into a room where Mr. Rogers is talking to a sickly 4 or 5 year old boy on oxygen, whose parents are standing by. “How often does this happen?” Vogel asks one of the crew standing around. “Every day,” she exclaims.
Mr. Rogers immediately notices Vogel’s nose. Vogel lies and says that he was hit in the face while playing baseball. Mr. Rogers isn’t buying it. While they’re at a restaurant, Rogers pries the truth out of Vogel, and thus begins an alleged friendship, one that purports that Rogers is there for Vogel whenever he needs him, even in his dreams. (There is a nightmare/dream sequence that utterly fails, where Vogel goes to visit Rogers on the set of his show and upon arriving is informed that he is ‘today’s special guest.’)
A few days after their first interview, Mr. Rogers calls Vogel in the middle of the night. His wife answers and speaks to Mr. Rogers for a minute before passing the phone to her husband. “You left without getting to say goodbye,” Rogers says to Vogel. “I’m coming up to NY to film and thought you might come down and say hello.”
So the two meet, again, in NYC. There is an inexplicable scene at the Hudson Theater where Rogers is treated to a private ‘concert’ by three women playing stringed instruments without the bows. “It’s called pizzicato,” one of the three informs Rogers.
Outside, Vogel is standing and talking to a woman he thinks works for the Mr. Rogers Neighborhood TV show. During the chat, the woman refers to Rogers as “Rog.” Vogel is stunned. “We don’t call him Mr. Rogers at home,” she explains, and goes on to inform Vogel that she is Mrs. Rogers. “What’s it like living with a saint?” he asks her.
With all the stories in the world yet unfilmed there must be, literally, one million that are more interesting than this bore fest.
No one cares about the fictitious life of writer Tom Junod. Not even Tom Junod. What compelled Columbia Pictures to greenlight this offal? My guess is that they thought is was an easy Oscar nomination for Hanks. There is a slight chance that Oscar voters might be brainwashed into nominating Hanks. But, then again, perhaps not. It has been over 18 years since his last Oscar nomination. And every movie that he has been snubbed for since his last Oscar nomination, even the worst of them, has been light years ahead of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood in the watchability department, including Captain Phillips, The Post, The Terminal, Catch Me If You Can, Charlie Wilson’s War, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Larry Crowne.
The climax of the film has Vogel reconciling with a father who has zero redeeming qualities. It is so unbelievably unbelievable that it is laughable. In one scene that is supposed to be heartwarming, Mr. Rogers shows up to the senior Vogel’s home where he is convalescing in bed (in the living room) surrounded by family. Everyone is tongue tied when Mr. Rogers walks in. Later on, one male relative even asks Rogers if he was a sharpshooter. “I’m afraid not,” Rogers replies, bursting the bubble of the man who asked the question. Again, none of what is shown on screen, none of it, happened in real life. Rogers never met Vogel’s wife or family, let alone paid the dying patriarch a home visit.
If there ever was a movie that was tailor made for Netflix, a studio that doesn’t care, nor report, how many people watch their films, this is it. I imagine that if after having paid to see this movie everyone were asked “if you had been able to see this movie for free, would have liked it better?” that 9 out of 10 would say no. And that all 10 would ask for their money back. The film is that bad.
Matthew Rhys (FX’s The Americans), who plays Jurod/Vogel is an awful choice for the role. He lacks any charisma. Acting next to two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks he stands out like a broken nose.
In fact, at the very end of the movie, Mr. Rogers is sitting on the set of his show, as the lights go out and the crew are leaving for the day, playing a piano (he and his wife love the piano, they have matching baby grands in their living room) and pounds on the keys in an earth (and ear) shattering way. I’m wondering if that is a subtle hint from Hanks that he realizes that this movie is beyond salvaging.
Columbia Pictures has a habit of thinking that countless Tweets and “quotes” from junket whores and fictitious movie critics will help their DOA movies. Neither Tweets nor quotes have ever helped a movie from any studio. Nothing will be able to help this film once word gets out how boring it is, how poorly it is written, and that it is a piece of fiction, to boot. Sorry Sony. While you think you have a box office hit and Oscar contender on your hands, you have nothing more than a rotten egg. And shame on you for trying to perpetrate this fraud on an unsuspecting audience.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood Review by Tim Nasson