A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW
Directed by Marielle Heller
Produced by: Youree Henley, Peter Saraf, Marc Turtletaub, Leah Holzer
Written by: Micah Fitzman-Blue and Noah Harpster – Based on the article – “Can You Say Hero?” by Tom Junod
Cast: Matthew Rhys, Tom Hanks, Susan Kelechi-Watson, Chris Cooper, Christine Lahti
Cinematography: Jodee Lee Lipes
**CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS**
“Hello Neighbour!” – Fred Rogers
I watch a lot of horror, thriller and drama films that you could say are “feel-bad” in nature. They may eventually have some form of happy or morally satisfying ending, but such cinema seeks to create a sense of danger, anxiety and emotional distress as entertainment. Now I enjoy watching films on the edge of my seat and having my nerves shredded, however, sometimes it’s great to watch something that is quite the opposite. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019) is one such “feel-good” film, profiling an American icon and arguably one of the nicest people who ever lived: Fred Rogers.
Rogers (Tom Hanks) was the creator and host of Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood which ran for decades on U.S. cable channel PBS. The programme, while aimed at children, dealt with serious subjects like illness, divorce and death via puppetry, songs and Rogers’ wise and simple homespun philosophies. Over the years he became a household name and a staple of American family life. Yet, A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019), is not a standard biopic exploring Fred Rogers life from birth to death. In fact, he’s more of a magical mentor type of character for the lead protagonist, journalist Lloyd Vogel, portrayed by Matthew Rhys.
Opening with a meticulously presented simulacrum of Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood TV show with Tom Hanks in the hosting chair, the film immediately welcomes us into a positive and safe place. The audience are the children and we are about to be told a story about Lloyd. Because Lloyd is lost and troubled and needs help. Cleverly combining the TV show with flashbacks to Lloyd’s difficult family life is just one of the wonderful devices the film presents. Another is the use of models to emulate the locations within the film. Given the job of interviewing Fred Rogers for an Esquire piece, there’s a sense that Lloyd could well be looking to do a hatchet job on Rogers. However, he finds himself drawn to Rogers’ soft, magnetic and calming charm. The relationship between Rogers and Vogel’s character is superbly teased and developed by an excellent script.
While the drama is relatively low-key, the film is not without emotional impact throughout. There are several stand-out scenes where Lloyd’s negative and cynical worldview is airbrushed away by Rogers’ incredible goodness. As Vogel’s attitude to Rogers changes, so does his feelings toward his estranged father, his wife and child and the world in general. At the same time, Tom Hanks exceptional performance completely captured my heart. I’d never seen any of Fred Rogers TV shows before, but Hanks conveyed the inner peace and wisdom of this man perfectly. Moreover, my wife, who is American, was crying her eyes out with joy and nostalgia all the way through. Ultimately, this is another fine character and human drama from director, Marielle Heller. So, if you want a break from all the nasty unpleasantness in the world, you should definitely knock on Mr Rogers’ door. Everyone is welcome.