A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Marielle Heller, 2019) wr. Micah Fitzerman-Blue, Noah Harpster; Tom Hanks, Susan Kelechi Watson, Matthew Rhys; release 22 November

Two-time Oscar-winner Tom Hanks portrays Mr Rogers in a timely story of kindness triumphing over cynicism, based on the true story of a real-life friendship between Fred Rogers and journalist Tom Junod. After a jaded magazine writer (Emmy winner Matthew Rhys) is assigned a profile of Fred Rogers, he overcomes his skepticism, learning about empathy, kindness, and decency from America's most beloved neighbor. (blurb)

The story of this film is based on some kids show that was on (only) US television a couple of decades ago. Some journalist wrote an article about the host (Mr Rogers) which made the cover of Esquire. Ths producers thought they could sell this concept to US audiences, but it ain't gonna work here in Oz.

I didn't like this at all. Tom Hanks is so restrained by his director that every line takes an age to emerge from his mouth. And what does emerge is Ethics for Little Kids. This apparently works on Matthew Rhys's character, as he cries a lot, and stops punching his father (Chris Cooper) not long before he dies (providing another opportunity for another Life Lesson from Mr Rogers — death is human, so it's good ... or something).

There was what I suppose was a fantasy in which the journalist finds himself in Mr Rogers miniature universe. I completely missed the motivation for that, and didn't think it added anything (good) to the film. That was followed by said reporter staying over with Mr Rogers and wife and their pair of Steinways. I couldn't tell is that was fantasy or not.

These critics quite liked it.

Andrew Simpson, in Sight&Sound: "Impressive as the fourth-wall narrative plate-spinning undoubtedly is, though, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood also resonates through sheer emotional heft, with praise due to Hanks for imbuing Rogers with a humanity that becomes more complex as the film progresses, adding an emotional centre to effective imitation and moving beyond what might have been a hokily one-dimensional character. Rhys convinces as a man cut off from himself and others, his reconnection with his father (Chris Cooper) and wife Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson) examples of the film’s variety of fleshed-out supporting players."

A.O. Scott in the New York Times: "There is an off-the-shelf quality to this story, which brushes up against more than a few self-help screenwriting clichés. But Heller, as in her previous films (The Diary of a Teenage Girl and Can You Ever Forgive Me?), trusts in the power of small moments and the appeal of human idiosyncrasy. She also makes charming use of the miniature architecture of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, weaving a bright thread of fantasy into Lloyd’s troubled reality. It’s not only Mister Rogers’s kindness that hovers over “Beautiful Day,” but also his creative spirit. Paying tribute to his skills as a composer, performer and puppeteer, the movie affirms his status as a hero of the imagination."

Garry Gillard | reviews | New: 6 February, 2020 | Now: 10 February, 2020