Release Date(s)2019 (February 18, 2020)
Studio(s)TriStar Pictures/Sony/Tencent Pictures (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: C+
- Audio Grade: B-
- Extras Grade: B
Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) is a troubled man. An investigative journalist for Esquire magazine, Lloyd has a good marriage and a new young son, but his relationship with his own father (Chris Cooper) is badly strained and he takes a dim view of humanity. Things begin to change, however, when he’s assigned to write a profile of Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks), the host of PBS’ famed children’s show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Surprised by Fred’s gentle manner, which seems indistinguishable from his on-screen persona, Lloyd initially believes him to be a fraud and sets out to expose him in the article. But with Fred, what you see is exactly what you get. And through patience and kindness, Fred instead begins to expose Lloyd’s childhood trauma, and helps him to heal even as they form a lasting bond of friendship.
Based on the 1998 article “Can You Say… Hero?” by Tom Junod, Marielle Heller’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a charming and enjoyable film. Lloyd Vogel and his circumstances are an original creation but are obviously based loosely on Junod. Rhys (best known for The Americans) brings genuine emotion to the role and a real depth of past pain. His wife is played by Susan Kelechi Watson (Life Is Us) and together they bring the reality of their relationship and its struggles to life. Hanks gives a truly remarkable performance as Fred Rogers. Sometimes he seems to channel Fred and at others the two personalities almost seem to merge as one. It’s obvious that Heller has put a lot of thought into this project and she’s a good filmmaker. (After seeing this, I intend to seek out more of her work.) But there’s something missing here too and it’s hard to put my finger on it. My wife watched this with me and when it was done, she was still struggling with the idea of who Fred Rogers really was. There are a couple of scenes where we learn a bit more about his own life, but not nearly enough. The situation isn’t helped by a story structure that seeks to blur Lloyd’s reality with the fantasy of Fred’s show. It’s very cleverly done—when Lloyd first travels to Pittsburgh, the travel transitions are done with miniatures in the style of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. They’re both cute and off-putting at once. Still, there’s undeniable authenticity on display here, especially when Lloyd visits the set of the TV show. The filmmakers shot in Fred Rogers’ real WQED production studio, and many people who worked there were on hand to consult. Points too for the use of Nick Drake in the soundtrack.
Most of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood was shot digitally using the Arri Alexa Mini camera in Super 16 mode (ProRes format 1080p at 4:4:4) to render a lower resolution film look. The Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood insert scenes were shot in SD resolution in PAL format using Ikegami 323 cameras, to recreate the period look of the TV show. All of this footage was upsampled and finished as a 4K digital intermediate at the 1.85:1 aspect ratio (with 1.33:1 for the TV segments). The result was then graded for high dynamic range (in HDR10). Now, if any of this sounds strange, let me tell you… it’s even stranger to look at. The effect certainly works well for the film, but it makes for a damn weird UHD image. The “real world” sequences have a naturalistic appearance, but of course they’re very soft. Colors are delicately nuanced and nicely saturated, but the blacks are crushed and grayish by design. Don’t let my C+ grade fool you; this is exactly how the film is meant to look. But while I’m glad to have the film in 4K, it’s still a very odd choice for release in Ultra HD—even more so on a physical disc. (For some reason that’s beyond fathoming, this title is “IMAX Enhanced.” All that really means is that the title has DTS-X sound and they add a little bit of DNR to the image to ensure maximum clarity. But considering this is a dialogue drama, and that it was shot in HD and SD resolution, the choice to “IMAX Enhance” it is baffling.)
Audio-wise, the 4K includes its primary audio in English DTS-X. As a 1970s dialogue drama, don’t expect much in the way of sonic frills. But the mix certainly offers nice clarity, with a full and pleasing sound, and the film’s lossless score and music are presented with fine fidelity. Additional audio options include English and French Descriptive audio, and French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital. Subtitles are available in English, English SDH, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, French, Korean, Spanish, and Thai.
There are no extras on the 4K disc itself, but the package also includes the film in 1080p HD on Blu-ray. That disc adds a number of special features as follows:
- Audio Commentary with Director Marielle Heller and DP Jody Lee Lipes
- Deleted & Extended Scenes (8 scenes –16:45 in all)
- Blooper Reel (1:38)
- Everybody’s Neighbor: Fred and Tom (10:29)
- The People Who Make a Neighborhood (15:23)
- Dreaming Big, Building Small (8:37)
- Everyone Makes Mistakes (2:42)
The commentary is thoughtful and filled with insights on the filmmakers’ approach to the project. Heller and Lipes talk about how they shot the miniature transitions and their decision-making in different scenes. They have an easy shorthand together as they share behind-the-scenes stories. The deleted material is mostly extended moments, including footage of Hanks as Rogers speaking to Congress (a well known incident in which he lobbied senators to fund public television for children). The blooper reel is basically just Hanks struggling to zip up Rogers’ infamous red sweater. But the featurettes not only reveal Hanks’ take on the role, and Rhys’ insights on his own character, they also give you a chance to see many of the real people who worked on the original TV show marveling at the extent to which the filmmakers have gone to recreate it. Fred Rogers’ actual wife, Joanne, appears, as does David Newell (who played Mr. McFeely). Dreaming Big, Building Small is a look a the effort to bring all of the classic puppet characters back to life. And Everyone Makes Mistakes is a brief piece hosted by Daniel Tiger, in which Hanks describes the difficulty of recreating the show’s iconic opening while making it look casual and natural. All of this is cute and worth a look if you enjoyed either the movie or the original show. You also get a Movies Anywhere Digital code on a paper insert in the packaging.
As a kind of slice of life, a sample of what the experience of meeting the real Fred Rogers in the midst of a chaotic and troubling world must have actually been like, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood works beautifully. If you grew up in the 1970s and 80s, as I did, just hearing the name Fred Rogers brings a smile to your face. You can’t help but be moved by the sheer force of his empathy. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood isn’t a truly great film; I don’t think we learn enough about Fred himself for that. To be completely honest, it’s also not a film you really need to see on 4K Ultra HD. But this is a good film, and it’s one I think everyone deserves to see at least once.
- Bill Hunt