A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood First Reviews: Tom Hanks is "Perfect," "Transporting" As Mr. Rogers

Critics at the Toronto International Film Festival say Tom Hanks is as good as you're hoping as Fred Rogers in a smart, moving new film that creeps up on you.

by | September 8, 2019 | Comments

Is it even possible to make a bad movie about Mr. Rogers? Arriving on the heels of the successful 2018 documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, biopic A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019) 96% comes equipped with the too-perfect casting of Tom Hanks as children’s television icon Fred Rogers. The very first critics who saw the film couldn’t help but be charmed by the movie and Hanks’ portrayal, as represented in the first reviews out of the Toronto International Film Festival. Viewers were in tears at the premiere and calling it one of the actors’ best, which says a lot, of course. (Note, these are the very first reviews for the film, drawn mostly from the movie’s world premiere at the festival; as the movie is screened in the next few days more early reviews will come in and we will add those to this article as they’re published.)

Here’s what critics are saying about A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood:

Let’s get this out of the way: Is Hanks perfect as Rogers?

“There’s no question that Hanks is perfect in the part…people will relax into the movie so much that they’ll forget they’re watching an impersonation.” – Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter

“Hanks’ body language is at once stoic and vulnerable, the pace of his speech as Fred is slow, slower than most people. But the actor brings so much focus that it’s impossible to find a reason to move faster, if it would mean missing a single moment spent in his company.” – Ella Kemp, The Playlist

“Hanks’ cuddly pedigree means he was born to play Rogers, and he immerses himself in the role.” – Eric Kohn, IndieWire

“Hanks isn’t just good — he’s transporting.” – Owen Gleiberman, Variety

“It’s hard to imagine that his pitch-perfect channeling of Rogers’ magnificent and slightly unsettling calm won’t put him in the thick of a supporting-actor race.” – Steve Pond, The Wrap

“There’s a sweetness to the performance that never veers towards saccharine; Hanks consistently strays away from any sort of cliches to find deeper meaning.” – Jordan Ruimy, World of Reel

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
(Photo by Lacey Terrell)

Is this just a standard biopic?

“This is no straightforward biopic, and for that we can probably be glad…it’s the rare biopic that doesn’t wander into predictability or cheese, or both.” – Sara Stewart, New York Post

“It’s absolutely not a biopic…it’s a two-hour therapy session about the relationships we have with our parents and learning to cope with death, with Hanks’ Fred Rogers as a conduit.” – Mike Ryan, Uproxx

And it’s not even just about Mr. Rogers?

“This movie isn’t about Rogers himself: He takes a backseat here, which should worry anybody who might face Hanks for a best-supporting-actor Oscar.” – Brian Truitt, USA Today

“Perhaps this is the only way to really make a film about Fred Rogers — by making it about the people whose lives he touched.” – Hannah Goodhead, Little White Lies

“The film is smart enough to not get us too close to Rogers. Look, you just can’t. He’s almost too otherworldly.” – Mike Ryan, Uproxx

“Some viewers may be disappointed this film isn’t all about Fred Rogers, but after a bit of reflection, I think less may be better.” – Sara Stewart, New York Post

How is Marielle Heller’s direction?

“Heller’s filmmaking is a patchwork quilt of influences from Mr Rogers himself. She uses an imagined episode of the show as a framing device; takes musical inspiration from Rogers’ own compositions and puts a miniature Vogel in rabbit ears, enforcing a bonding moment with Mr Rogers’ puppets.” – Wendy Ide, Screen Daily

“Heller, as she proved in Can You Ever Forgive Me?, has a gift for taking straightforward scenes and flooding them with emotion.” – Owen Gleiberman, Variety

“Heller does take a few ambitious swings, and they always come as a welcome surprise.” – Eric Kohn, IndieWire

“After her fantastic first two features, The Diary of a Teenage Girl and Can You Ever Forgive Me?, it’s a bit disappointing to see Heller taking on material with no edge at all.” – Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter

“[Heller gives] her audience some kind of recognizable knot in the stomach, one of nostalgia, one of gratitude and grace.” – Ella Kemp, The Playlist

“Having proven herself to be among the more empathetic directors working today, her equally understated delivery reaches the ethos of Rogers’ philosophy.” – Luke Parker, We Got This Covered

What about the screenplay?

“The script by the team of Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster serves up very little that you can’t guess after the first few minutes.” – Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter

“The script, by Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster, applies Rogers’ genial mode of address to present a prototypical case study of anger management. It’s not the most sophisticated device, but it positions Rogers above the drama with an ethereal glow that matches his otherworldly reputation, and lingers in his appeal.” – Eric Kohn, IndieWire

A Beautiful Day In the Neighborhood
(Photo by Lacey Terrell)

Should we expect to shed tears?

“When the film comes out, there won’t be a dry eye in the megaplexes of America.” – Owen Gleiberman, Variety

“Suffice it to say that tears were flowing onscreen and off at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto.” – Steve Pond, The Wrap

But does it get too sentimental?

“Heller sticks to understatement in a way that threatens to become dull or sappy but never does. What she pulls off here is a small, sweet miracle of sorts.” – Steve Pond, The Wrap

“In the hands of a lesser storyteller, [the film] would resort to cheap, maudlin devices…Heller, however, excels at pulling heartstrings from sturdy foundations” – Eric Kohn, IndieWire

Are the laughs to be had?

“…this film is indeed very funny, as investigative journalist Vogel chafes at the idea of a 400-word assignment to write about Rogers for a special issue devoted to heroes.” – Steve Pond, The Wrap

A Beautiful Day In the Neighborhood
(Photo by Lacey Terrell)

And How is Matthew Rhys?

“But it’s Rhys who dominates the film, with a fine, fractured performance as a man who can’t bring himself to forgive the sins of his father.” – Wendy Ide, Screen Daily

“Matthew Rhys triumphs as the jaded investigative journalist, fighting both his professional cynicism and deeply rooted resentment for his imperfect father… It’s a transformative performance, one that begins with stony bitterness and gives way to an emotionally naked revelation without ever losing an ounce of gravitas.” – Ella Kemp, The Playlist

Are there any issues with this Mr. Rogers tale?

Beautiful Day relies a bit too much on Rogers’ built-in appeal, but it exhibits a visible confidence about the rationale for staying within those bounds.” – Eric Kohn, IndieWire

“Visually, the film could have been sharper, with more color and luster.” – Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter

“…it won’t be for everyone. The laser-focussed niceness that was Mr Roger’s USP can seem a little disconcerting to those not accustomed to it. But even in territories where audiences are unfamiliar with Fred Rogers’ hokey appeal, the film’s humour, its amiable charm offensive and its gentle weirdness should disarm all but the most cynical.” – Wendy Ide, Screen Daily

Will A Beautiful Day In the Neighborhood make me a better person?

“Hanks’ all-in portrayal ought to snag him an Oscar nomination, and ideally will also inspire a little more kindness in all of us.” – Sara Stewart, New York Post

“Not only does [Rogers] cast his spell on Vogel but also on the audience watching the movie. You feel like a better and more determined person once end credits role.” – Jordan Ruimy, World of Reel

“If you do open yourself up, there’s something wonderful to find in this movie…you will learn more about yourself.” – Mike Ryan, Uproxx

“No one can be Mr Rogers, but at the same time, everyone can. All it takes is a little kindness to yourself, and a little kindness towards others.” – Hannah Goodhead, Little White Lies

“This grand episode is also one for us, too, to learn a lesson about forgiveness at a time when we might need it the most…It’s still Rogers’ neighborhood and we’re still learning from him.”- Brian Truitt, USA Today

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 7, 2019. It will be in theaters November 22, 2019.

Adjusted Score: 111.265%
Critics Consensus: Much like the beloved TV personality that inspired it, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood offers a powerfully affecting message about acceptance and understanding.
Synopsis: Tom Hanks portrays Mister Rogers in A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD, a timely story of kindness triumphing over cynicism,... [More]
Directed By: Marielle Heller

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