While not all the right notes are consistently played in Marielle Heller’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, it’s the performance of one beloved actor playing one beloved children’s show host that makes it worthwhile. The film isn’t as much about Mister Rogers as it is the feelings he gives people through his demeanor and work. Portrayed by Tom Hanks, it’s an impeccable casting choice to witness.
Neighborhood is set in 1998, as Mister Rogers is introduced to Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), Esquire. Not an attorney, but he’s a prolific writer for Esquire magazine. Lloyd, who lives in New York City with his wife (Susan Kelechi Watson) and infant son, typically deals with weighty issues in his journalistic articles and in his family life. He’s got a strained relationship with his father (Chris Cooper), who left Lloyd’s now deceased mother when he was a boy. When Lloyd attends his sister’s third wedding, the toxic father/son dynamic is on full display. The last thing the writer wants is a puff piece assignment and he believes he’s got one with a profile of the iconic Rogers.
Lloyd flies to Pittsburgh where the public access program is taped and thus begins a dialogue with Rogers that will far exceed his 400 word assignment. Esquire wants a short piece dealing with heroes while Lloyd wants to dig deeper. When Mister Rogers sees his profiler suffering, he chooses to dig deeper as well.
Inspired by a true story, there’s still a feeling that Lloyd’s daddy issues are far from new territory. Rhys’s performance is adequate, but a bit diminished next to an icon playing an icon. Those looking for an examination of the life of Rogers may come away disappointed. Luckily the solid documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? covers that ground. We do see the puppets, the sweater change, and most importantly, the warmth that the host effortlessly exuded. The script deserves some credit for not falling too far down a sentimental rabbit hole. In this story, Mister Rogers isn’t perfect, but he’s darn close.
That goes for Hanks. Sometimes the obvious casting decision is the correct one and here’s an example. We attribute some of the same qualities with the two-time Oscar winner. This is why sarcastic Twitter posts about Hanks being a nightmare in real life are met with immediate eye rolls or chuckles. Mister Rogers was a comfort to millions and watching Hanks play him feels the same.
Tom Hanks dons the iconic red cardigan next weekend in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. The feel good drama casts the double Oscar winner as childrens host Mister Rogers, just one year after Won’t You Be My Neighbor? became one of the highest grossing documentaries of all time. Marielle Heller (who directed Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant to Academy nods last year in Can You Ever Forgive Me?) is behind the camera. Matthew Rhys stars as a journalist doing a story on Rogers with Susan Kelechi Watson and Chris Cooper in the supporting cast.
Since Day debuted at the Toronto Film Festival a couple months back, solid buzz followed and its current Rotten Tomatoes score stands at 97%. It appears probable that Hanks will receive his first Oscar nomination (in Supporting Actor) since 2000’s Cast Away. The aforementioned 2018 doc likely helps its visibility, as does casting one of our biggest movie stars as one of America’s most beloved figures.
There is the matter of Frozen II, which could siphon some family audiences away. Beautiful also arrives on the pre Thanksgiving long frame and some filmgoers may simply choose to spend time in this neighborhood at that time.
While I do believe a premiere of over $20 million (maybe even $25 million) is feasible, I’ll say high teens with weekends of strong holds ahead is the play.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood opening weekend prediction: $18.6 million
Since 2016, the NBC drama This Is Us has kept viewers in a perpetual state of tears and it’s been a massive hit for the network. As the show’s popularity has continued, the various leads on the family affair have seen their movie offers increase.
When looking at how Oscar voters could reward the work of these actors that have garnered plenty of Emmy nods, there’s some we can quickly discount. Don’t look for Milo Ventimiglia to contend for The Art of Racing in the Rain. His onscreen wife Mandy Moore won’t get supporting actress attention for next weekend’s Midway. Justin Hartley will not be feted for Little or Jexi. And while A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood could see Tom Hanks receive another nomination, the same won’t hold true for Susan Kelechi Watson.
That brings us to Watson’s TV hubby Sterling K. Brown. His big screen family drama Waves has gotten raves on the film festival circuit. It would appear his performance is most likely to appear on the radar of the awards crowd. Yet there’s a problem. 2019’s crop of supporting actor possibilities is packed. The list includes the aforementioned Hanks in Neighborhood, Brad Pitt in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, both Al Pacino and Joe Pesci for The Irishman, Anthony Hopkins in The Two Popes, Willem Dafoe in The Lighthouse, and Jamie Foxx for Just Mercy. The race simply might be too crowded for Brown.
Surprisingly, the best chance for an Us thespian to get into the Academy derby might come in an unexpected category. This spring’s faith based release Breakthrough featured Chrissy Metz in the cast. Her acting will not be honored. However, Metz did cut an original song for the soundtrack titled “I’m Standing With You”. The songwriter is Diane Warren and she’s no stranger to Oscar. Warren has landed ten nods for her work, including songs from the last two years – “Stand Up for Something” from Marshall and “I’ll Fight” from RBG. The Best Original Song race is still uncertain, but Disney appears bound to get in with expected selections from Toy Story 4, Frozen II, Aladdin, and The Lion King. There’s also tracks from Rocketman and Cats that could factor in. Still, Metz’s pipes probably have the highest chance for recognition over the acting skills of her fellow cast members.
ABeautifulDayintheNeighborhood is one of the highest profile titles to debut in Toronto prior to its November 22 stateside rollout. From Marielle Heller (who directed Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant to nods in last year’s CanYouEverForgiveMe?), it follows a journalist (Matthew Rhys) doing a story on legendary children’s show host Mister Rogers. And the film casts Tom Hanks, perhaps America’s most beloved actor, in the part.
Early reviews have keyed in one his work and he’s said to be terrific. Critical reaction has also cleared up any category placement confusion. Hanks is supporting here and would be nominated as such with Rhys likely going lead. A two-time winner for Philadelphia and ForrestGump with three other nods under his belt, Hanks surprisingly hasn’t heard his name called since 2000 for CastAway (I’m still sore he was snubbed for 2013’s CaptainPhillips). He’s never been nominated outside of the lead actor race.
Neighborhood could certainly change that. As for Best Picture, I’m skeptical it gets in despite reviews saying it’s a tear jerking audience pleaser. The focus could rest solely on its very famous costar. One of the shocker snubs in 2018 was the exclusion of Won’tYouBeMyNeighbor? (about Rogers) from Documentary Feature. Academy voters could rectify that a bit in 2019. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…