'a phenomenal Day within the neighborhood' brings out the warm fuzzies …

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Brian Truitt

USA TODAY

Published 10:30 AM EST Nov 18, 2019

About 'A

'A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood' brings out the warm fuzzies …

About Beautiful
Beautiful, an adjective used to describe things as possessing beauty, may refer to:

Be it the best or worst of times, Mr. Rogers’ lessons on kindness and understanding never waver in their importance, and that mindset fits Tom Hanks just as well as the TV icon’s cozy cardigan and canvas shoes.

With America’s Dad perfectly cast as his pop-culture predecessor, writer/director Marielle Heller’s “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” (★★★ out of four; rated PG; in theaters nationwide Friday) smartly avoids the overly sentimental biopic route. Instead, it embraces the template of a well-worn holiday classic: A cynical journalist (Matthew Rhys) needs a crash course in empathy and finds one in the form of Fred Rogers, a guardian angel of sorts whose calming presence and thoughtful bon mots help turn his world around.

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It mostly works – Hanks is ostensibly a supporting player and noticeably missed when not onscreen – and Heller’s creativity proves just as key as her star. “A Beautiful Day” acts as a two-hour episode of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” for grown-ups, a meta-narrative showing the real world through a kids’ show lens and Hanks’ Rogers sitting us all down for an educational experience.

Esquire writer Lloyd Vogel (Rhys) initially balks when he’s assigned a “puff piece” on the Pittsburgh children’s television favorite for an issue about heroes but ultimately accepts his fate. It comes at a time when Lloyd is having issues in his personal life: The new dad has a run-in with his own estranged father (Chris Cooper) at a family wedding, which ends with a black eye and more hard feelings.

Lloyd is still skeptical when he walks into Rogers’ world, peeking at the little miniature town and seeing him in action. But he learns that somebody can actually be as good a man as Rogers seems: The two begin a series of conversations and meetings that are more therapy than interview. Rhys and Hanks are entrancing in those scenes as the TV personality is unflappably calm and earnest when doling out his Rogers-isms (“Fame is a four-letter word … What matters is what you do with it”) and the reporter slowly evolves from consummate doubter to true believer.

Based on the real-life friendship between writer Tom Junod and the guy generations grew up watching, “Neighborhood” arrives a year after the excellent and uplifting documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” captured what made Mr. Rogers so special. The new film manages to do the same, to a lesser degree, and some of Rogers’ idiosyncrasies are played for comedic purposes, which slightly derails the poignancy.

But thankfully, Hanks channels the essence of the beloved icon to an uncanny degree. A wig and bushier eyebrows match more of Rogers’ look, there’s an authentic slowness to Hanks’ delivery, and he makes it all look effortless. Watch out for the small moments, though, because those are where Hanks really shines: During the filming of an episode, Lloyd peeks around to see Rogers playing his signature puppet Daniel Tiger, and there’s an unmistakable truth and sweetness to Hanks’ performance.

The supporting cast is sufficiently solid, with Susan Kelechi Watson (“This Is Us”) as Lloyd’s understanding wife and Enrico Colantoni as Rogers’ deadpan protective handler, and the exquisite production design dutifully re-creates the set of Rogers’ TV show for the movie’s innovative story structure.

Heller crafts a story built on Rogers’ tenets that feels resonant and necessary for today, and bringing to bear the warm and fuzzy qualities of the small-screen legend, Hanks proves he’s just as timeless himself.

Published 10:30 AM EST Nov 18, 2019