Everyone’s gonna tell you this is a sweet movie but I’m not, I’m here to tell you that A Beautiful Day In the Neighborhood is kind of outrageous, actually. It opens with Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers, walking into a perfect recreation of his program’s set, quality fuzzy like an old TV picture, and after he does the bit with the cardigan and the sneakers, he starts showing you this “picture board” with photos hidden behind doors, and then he opens one of them and it’s this insane close-cropped image of Matthew Rhys with a cut on the bridge of his nose and a black eye, looking dead into the camera with a face of bitter misery, and Tom Rogers goes “This is my friend Lloyd.” And at that moment my soul briefly transcended my body to turn around and look at me and ask, “Is this movie gonna be…weird?” It is, and in retrospect I don’t know why I expected otherwise!
But yes, let’s talk about Mr. Rogers’ friend Lloyd first, because he is the main character and he is, yes, outrageous. Lloyd is an impossibility: the only person in the world who has no good will toward Fred Rogers, living in the only alley in New York City, with the only journalism job that would pay for him to travel from NYC to Pittsburgh I think three separate times to write a 400-word piece of copy. In real life, the Esquire profile that inspired this movie was written by a man named Tom, but as they needed to make him outrageous, all the names have been changed, and, appropriately, they picked one for him that sounds like a mournful trumpet slide. Lloyd has (outrageously) a 10/10 compassionate beautiful public interest attorney wife named Andrea, and an adorable brand new baby, and this movie is basically an hour forty-five of Mr. Rogers trying to make Lloyd worth their time. Mr. Rogers took one look at this cynical sadsack and went, ‘I have to rehabilitate this man’. Lloyd is so mad and so sad and just, god, Lloyd, nobody’s got time for this—except Mr. Rogers. Mr. Rogers moves at a different pace from the entire world. Mr. Rogers has got all the time he needs. Mr. Rogers will care about Lloyd when I do not.
Because it’s important to remember that Mr. Rogers was also kind of outrageous! He was a strange person! He was an endless fount of empathy and grace, and a total weirdo. Marielle Heller has figured that out, and essentially made the kind of movie Fred Rogers was. She has deliberately framed the film as if it’s an episode of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, full of kindness and miniatures and slowly delivered dialogue and nearly too much sweetness, but with this certain oddball angle you never get too far away from before suddenly Fred is talking to you in a falsetto through his tiger puppet, or Lloyd has been shrunk down small enough to fit on the battlements of King Friday’s castle and given giant floppy bunny ears, in my personal high-water mark of this movie. The whole of which I spent, like I would watching the show, wishing it were just….a bit more outrageous.