Starring: Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Chris Cooper
a minute of perfect silence in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood that’s
hard to forget.
The real-life children’s presenter Fred Rogers, played by a sugar-sweet Tom Hanks, is
having lunch with the gloomy, cynical journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), who's interviewing him for a profile piece.
Spending time with Rogers’ lovingly empathetic personality causes Vogel to
rethink some things in his life: chiefly his frosty relationship with his
father, and his new duties as a dad himself.
tells him, over a vegetarian meal, to take a minute remembering those he loves, those who’ve shaped him. Director Marielle Heller stays in this moment and Jody
Lee Lipes’s camera slowly presses closer to Rogers. The quiet ambience of
the restaurant settles in. For a few delicate moments, it’s as if he’s
speaking to us; daring us to think of our own loved ones. Such is the soft
charm of Mr Rogers.
Journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys, right) is assigned to profile children's presenter Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks, left)
Day, loosely based on a
1998 Esquire article by Tom Junod, not only tells a poignant tale of love and
forgiveness, but seems to encourage every member of the audience to find and fix
their feelings; to let go of the anger in their hearts. In the current era, which
is both more enlightened and more anxious than ever, this film feels valuable
and (to use Rogers’ word) special.
Hanks has never struggled in his childish charm, his interview personality being
something of a cartoon joker: not real exactly, but extremely affable. He
sieves this into Mr Rogers, albeit with a more suppressed and sensible energy. Mr
Rogers introduces the film within his movie-set home, his personality bursting beyond the 4:3 telly box frame, and soothes viewers with his
honeyed words (‘It’s hardest of all to forgive someone we love’).
Mr Rogers soothes viewers with his honeyed words
Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster straddle a curious line between Vogel’s
broken-man mentality and Rogers’ cushy, comfortable fantasy: chiefly with
exterior establishment shots of cities, which are replaced with colourful
models. After Rogers’ introduction, we see Vogel at his sister’s wedding.
Their estranged but apologetic father (Chris Cooper) is also in attendance, and he and Vogel
have a harsh scuffle.
These initial scenes alarm at first, since Rogers’ lovely
opening monologue gives way to very functional dialogue that doesn't leave much room for three-dimensional conversation. But
when the film comes to Vogel’s interviews with Rogers, leading to the pause that started this review, the words shared between them sparkle and then drift
into strange directions – including an anxiety dream worthy of director David Lynch’s
Rogers is far from normal, and his regular dependence on old
puppets is often creepy, but there’s never a suggestion of danger in his
presence. There’s only one hint of an insult as Vogel asserts that ‘Mr Rogers’
is a character, not a real man.
Day is like a soft-talking
therapy session – not only for Vogel to improve his family life and his bleak
view of humanity, but for those watching, too. Cynicism is an amicable and
understandable standard, but sometimes it’s worth letting go and remembering what’s
good in life. Mr Rogers leads that journey, and perhaps the viewers – who are,
essentially, his audience for nearly two hours – will exit the cinema happier
than when they entered.
Reviewed at the 2019 London Film Festival. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood will be released in UK cinemas on 6 December
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31 Jan 20 – 31 Jan 21, TIMES VARY
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