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Saturday, June 25, 2022

A Beautiful Day in The Neighborhood, Truly

Ben Nietzel
Ben Nietzel works as the principal of Saints Mary and Mathias Catholic School. He also enjoys coaching Muskie football and reviewing movies.

Muscatine Living

A Beautiful Day in The Neighborhood (Neighborhood) is not the story of Fred Rogers, but rather the life-changing friendship between him and journalist Tom Junod. Neighborhood is the story of Lloyd Vogel (the name given to Junod’s character). Vogel is an investigative journalist working for Esquire magazine in the late 90’s. Tasked with writing a short piece on Rogers for a “heroes” issue the magazine was doing, Vogel is unable to shake his investigative instincts for a simple puff piece, and instead sets out to uncover the “real” man behind the TV persona. 

What he doesn’t expect is the personal journey Rogers will take him on. This is a movie about life, and a journey we all often have to take to move on from our hurts in order to love. The best bits are Rogers dispensing his advice, and the realization that his advice is as potent for forty-year-olds as it is for four-year-olds. Not only that, but the movie has real heart. In a world of internet trolls and constant barrages of bad news, Neighborhood feels like a needed cleanse for the soul. 

Neutral – Land of Make-Believe

 Tom Hanks is a great choice for Rogers. In fact, it’s unlikely any other actor could have taken on the role of a man who has been on people’s screens for more hours than most. Hanks clearly worked very hard to mimic mannerisms, facial tics, and speech patterns in order to give the most accurate and impressive depiction of Rogers likely possible.

That said, he’s not Rogers. There are a few people in the world who are so authentic that only they can act the way they do and pull it off. Rogers is one of those people, and so while poignant at times, Hanks as Rogers just doesn’t quite work. The rest of the cast, not given the Herculean task of impersonating an icon, is excellent. Of special note is Chris Cooper, who plays Vogel’s father, Jerry. Cooper manages to play the character as deeply flawed and even still making mistakes, yet, the audience finds him worthy of compassion and ultimately redemption.

Con – Weird Choices

Neighborhood is a good movie, but the stylistic choices made won’t resonate with everyone. First off, it’s much less about Rogers than one might believe based on the title and trailers. This can be a bit off-putting, and yet, it makes a lot of sense considering anyone just wanting to learn about Rogers can watch the year-old documentary on the man. More divisive will be the decision to frame the movie as an episode of the beloved children’s TV show. The film opens as the show would, and we eventually figure out that it’s structured to mimic the show. Even transitions in location are done using model buildings and vehicles as one would have seen on Rogers’s own set, including mock-ups of Pittsburgh and New York City. What the filmmaker is going for is clear, but for this reviewer it fell flat. 

Neighborhood is a heartfelt and heartwarming story that is a testament to Rogers. Stylistic choices aside, it’s still worth hopping on your neighborhood trolley to go watch it at the Fridley Palms Theatre.

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