Anyone living outside of the United States could be forgiven for not knowing who Fred Rogers was. His status as a US national treasure born from his children’s TV show, ‘Mister Rogers Neighbourhood’. A show that ran from 1968 to 2001 on the PBS network. It may therefore, come as no surprise that Marielle Heller’s new film ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood’, may not immediately not jump out to British or European viewers. However, Heller’s film inspired by the 1998 Esquire article written by Tom Junod offers far more than a traditional biopic. Providing the audience with a heartwarming, affectionate and nuanced tale of forgiveness and family. Wrapped in beautiful and sincere performances from both Tom Hanks and Matthew Rhys.
Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) is an award-winning journalist who carries a reputation for hard and cutting articles on his subjects. A reputation that has slowly brought his career to grinding halt, as potential interviewees fail to accept invitations. However, Lloyd’s anger and cutting journalism finds itself tied to an estranged relationship with his father Jerry (Chris Cooper). The hurt and pain of his youth simmering in the wings of his mind as he becomes a first time Dad himself.
Therefore when Vogel’s editor suggests he write a short puff piece on the iconic children’s TV presenter Fred Rogers. Vogel finds himself both insulted and incensed, stripped of his usual investigative writing. His career at Esquire, hanging in the balance as he is instructed to write 400 words on the ageing Rogers. However, on meeting Fred, Vogel finds himself intrigued by the presenters persona. Who glows with positivity both onscreen and offscreen, countering Vogel’s scepticism. While in turn allowing the journalist to explore his inner child and begin a healing process with his ageing father.
Using the aesthetic of Rogers TV show as part of the narrative, A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood could have become twee in the wrong hands. However, Marielle Heller’s ability to bring out the inner most feelings and thoughts of her characters. While in turn weaving both light and dark into the films subjects and themes. Ultimately creates a film buzzing with sincerity at every level. With the nuanced and touching screenplay of Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman-Blue ensuring the film achieves a rather unique balancing act in drama. Becoming a film that not only transports the audience into the deepest emotions of unresolved childhood trauma. But also enables them to become a part of the healing process.
Equally, while some films would have attempted to unseat Rogers with some deeply unsettling revelation half way through. Pouring doubt or scorn on a man who believed in the power of childhood and imagination. Heller’s film never attempts to circumnavigate the joy and warmth of Fred Rogers. With Tom Hanks portrayal, one of love, respect and admiration for a man who loved his life and work. His own career built on actions and beliefs that came from his failings and successes in life.
Meanwhile, Matthew Rhys sublimely portrays the emotional change inherent in becoming a first time dad. His own wishes for his new born son interfacing with his past experience of family breakdown. Ultimately providing us with a truly emotional and powerful commentary on the importance of fatherhood and belonging. While surrounding the audience with a feel good journey of acceptance, love and friendship.
The power of Hellers film to embed itself in the heart of the viewer is beautifully encapsulated in one scene. As Rogers invites Vogel to share a minute’s silence with him in a restaurant. A silence that provides an opportunity “to remember all the people who loved you into being”. This is a scene that ultimately transcends the normal cinematic viewing experience. As each audience member becomes a part of the onscreen narrative. Ultimately taking ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood’ beyond the boundaries of film into a joyous cinematic group therapy session.
Director: Marielle Heller
Cast: Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Chris Cooper, Susan Kelechi Watson