By Simon Whitlock
It doesn’t take a great sage to see that the world has altogether taken a turn for the worse this year, so it seems only fitting for a film as pure of heart as Marielle Heller’s “A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood” to have shone through the mire.
Heller is on a roll after last year’s sublime Lee Israel biopic “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”, and the shift in focus from one of late 20th Century America’s most famous rogues to Fred Rogers, arguably the US’s most beloved of national treasures, is no mean feat.
The film was inspired by an article published in “Esquire” magazine in the 1990s, and rather than present Rogers’ life in a conventional biopic, the film opts for a dramatisation of the relationship between Rogers, played by the equally beloved Tom Hanks, and fictional journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), in place of the “Esquire” article’s real writer Tom Junod.
Heller’s “A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood” encapsulates everything which made Fred Rogers such an inspiration to children over the years, and the film carries its message of goodness and love so sincerely that even in this increasingly cynical world.
Rogers is played more as storyteller than subject here though, and the film’s story is framed within an episode of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”, complete with Hanks singing the theme tune and getting into the iconic red cardigan. Heller and writers Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster’s main focus is with Lloyd, a man who has what can be best described as a fractious relationship with his father Jerry (Chris Cooper), and who, with his wife Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson) is facing his own challenges of parenthood.
Rhys is brilliant as the jaded journalist on assignment for Rogers’ profile piece, wholly unconvinced that his interviewee’s outlook on the world is remotely sincere. Inevitably, as the story progresses, Rogers’ genuinely kind-hearted nature, captured so wonderfully by Hanks in his best performance in years, wins the writer over and even prompts him to make some positive changes in his life.
Heller’s “A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood” encapsulates everything which made Fred Rogers such an inspiration to children over the years, and the film carries its message of goodness and love so sincerely that even in this increasingly cynical world, it’s impossible not to get swept up in the perfectly funny, heartbreaking ride of it all. After watching this film, one would be hard pressed to find anyone who wouldn’t have wanted to be Mr Rogers’ neighbour, too.