Starring Matthew Rhys and Tom Hanks, ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’ is a semi-biopic telling the story of cynical Esquire journalist who is sent to meet the legendary American star Fred Rogers. With a delicate tone, charming performances and a heart-warming message, it’s a fitting film for today’s climate.
The film is based on an Esquire article “Can You Say…Hero?” which was written by Tom Junod about his time meeting Fred Rogers. In the film, Junod is replaced by Lloyd Vogel, an award winning journalist who has a wife, a son, and severe father issues. After a fight at his sisters wedding, he is sent on a journalistic mission to profile Fred Rogers, the American broadcaster who had a children’s television show (‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’) from 1968-2001. As he talks with Rogers, Vogel will learn a bit more about his own childhood, forgiveness and fatherhood. (For context, Fred Rogers was a soft talking American hero, whose acclaimed show taught kids about the harsh truths of life, such as dealing with death, divorce and school issues).
Portraying America’s favourite children’s host is America’s favourite actor, Tom Hanks. As always, he puts in a beautiful performance with nuance and softness. As with most Tom Hanks performances, he also very easily made me cry with his delicate use of emotion and beautiful delivery. Matthew Rhys then stars as Vogel, and is brilliant in his intensity understated emotion. It’s clear throughout the film he’s bottling everything up and carrying it within him, and when this tension is all let go, his performance makes a remarkable change. The film also stars Chris Cooper and Susan Kelechi Watson as Vogel’s father and wife respectively.
The film was directed by Marielle Heller, who last year brought us the fabulous ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?’, and once again she has presented a film that tonally sits perfectly between comedy and drama. When an emotional punch is needed, it can deliver, but it also offers a lot of great comedy beats. A scene I found most striking was one where Fred tells Lloyd to take a minute of silence, just to reflect and ponder. And then the film fully commits to a minute of tranquility. Immersive and transportive, it was a bold direction that completely paid off.
The visual style of the film is also ingenious, blending a widescreen ratio with a 4:3 televisual shooting style. More perfect, most of the exteriors for the film are shot with play town miniatures, and this gives the film a unique, slightly bizarre, but ultimately cute appeal. The overall result is a brilliant metaphorical journey into Fred Rogers’s world, as Vogel is engulfed by a man commonly referred to as the nicest man on the planet.
Though the story is a little cliché, all the right emotional beats are hit, and when the cast are this perfectly suited to the characters they’re playing, you really don’t mind at all. ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’ is an important reminder of the importance of humanity and kindness, and is a beautiful example of a biopic that adapts to the big screen without taking away from the real dramas of life.