A dearly beloved children’s television host whose mild-mannered nature along with his wonderful wisdom charmed many an American. Yet the reputation built and his lasting impact perhaps didn’t quite translate to our shores until Morgan Neville’s well-received award-winning documentary ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’ last year.
Exchanging the mischievous plagiarism which was prominent in her previous film ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?’, for the kind-hearted purity of Fred Rogers. ‘A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood’ is a triumphant tonic for a time where mean spirits are increasingly being rewarded or championed.
Drawing inspiration from a real-life friendship that bloomed between Rogers and a journalist, at the height of his popularity. Matthew Rhys’ Lloyd Vogel is the cynical counterpoint to the sunny disposition of our star attraction. He’s a man who is possessed by many personal demons, with the blame firmly pinned on the ill-tempered relationship he shares with his father Jerry (Chris Cooper). The only rays of light in his life as he struggles to carve out a niche for himself at Esquire Magazine, are his newborn son and doting wife Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson).
His disillusionment is only enhanced by being offered an assignment profiling Rogers (Tom Hanks), a task that he deems trivial and beneath him despite the likelihood of gracing the front cover. Beginning as polar opposites and awfully resistant, Lloyd simply can’t prepare for how radical his outlook on life changes, through his heart swelling experiences with Mr Rogers.
In lesser hands, such moments like the gentle sway of Tom Hanks’ Mr Rogers’ entrance as he delivers the opening of his TV show, or a spontaneous singalong of his theme tune in a New York subway, would be bordering on sickly in their sweetness. It’s in the supreme smarts of director Marielle Heller in pushing Lloyd’s hardships to the forefront of the narrative. Instead of over-indulging in the potential schmaltz of Rogers that allows the film to sidestep these pratfalls, discovering a sincerity and honesty in itself which is deeply affecting. From the outset there’s surreal flourishes to Heller’s direction peppered throughout also, as Rogers positions Lloyd as the key item to discuss on an episode of his show, that only aid the enchanting quality of its central dynamic.
Whilst progress has been made in opening up such conversations, depictions of men being completely vulnerable with their feelings and difficulties, whether it be grief or anxiety is still too few and far between, so to witness the emotionally engaging duel between Tom Hanks and Matthew Rhys, as they look to meet on common ground is downright beautiful and will speak to its viewers in a multitude of ways.
Their showstopping moment together reduces the film to sheer silence, prompting much reflection away from the chaos of their lives. It’s a sequence that transcends what transpires on screen, almost prompting you to look inward also as it looks to eradicate the cynicism and pain of our thoughts, to ultimately provide comfort and catharsis for us as well as Lloyd.
Never cheap in its sentiment. Always rich in its positivity and performances. ‘A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood’ will melt your heart.
Directed by: Marielle Heller
Written by: Micah Fitzerman-Blue, Noah Harpster
Cast: Tom Hanks, Christine Lahti, Wendy Makkena, Matthew Rhys, Chris Cooper