Release date – 31st January 2020, Cert – PG, Run-time – 1 hour 48 minutes, Director – Marielle Heller
Cynical journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) is sent to meet iconic television personality Mr Rogers (Tom Hanks) for a piece of heroes.
“It’s a beautiful day in this neighbourhood, a beautiful day for a neighbour. Would you be mine? Could you be mine” sings Tom Hanks as iconic American television personality Mr Rogers as he emerges through the door of his television home greeting the viewer with a charming smile and calming tones. This was how every episode of long-running American children’s show Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood began with an immediate connection with the viewer, openly inviting them in to be Mr Rogers neighbour for 30 minutes each day. A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood very much treads along the same lines, telling its story as if a standard episode set in the titular neighbourhood. Filled with charm, innocence, care and joy. Whether you’re aware of Mr Rogers or not – which for most people in the UK the answer is very likely the latter – there’s an inescapable air of happiness as a smile spreads across your face at the pure presence of not just Tom Hanks, but the spirit of Mr Rogers.
Hanks certainly doesn’t look like Fred Rogers, he doesn’t sound like him; but the most important thing is that he perfectly encapsulates the figure of one of the nicest men to have graced the earth. Spreading messages of kindness and care, telling each person that they are special while helping to tackle their emotions through his half hour of gentle thought. Through the harsh ‘t’s’ and slow, quiet style of speech, whether presenting or talking to others, Hanks is Mr Rogers. It’s almost impossible not to be consumed by his performance alone, connecting on a deeply emotional level with lines that seem to have been plucked from the brightly-coloured, cardigan-wearing host himself. Lines such as “anything mentionable is manageable” or simply the offer of a minute of reflective silence.
However, while Hanks certainly steals the show and is easily the main talking point of the film – earning his Supporting Actor Oscar nomination – the film actually follows journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys). Based on a 1998 Esquire article by Tom Junod about Mr Rogers, Vogel is sent to hold a short interview for 400 words for an issue on heroes. Vogel is the complete opposite of Rogers. Cynical, repressed, closed-in and seemingly lacking in empathy. None of this helped by the tense relationship he has with his distant father (Chris Cooper) who seems to reappear after a considerable time away from Lloyd’s life.
Lloyd views Rogers and his show as cheap and tacky. Only catering to the very young with silly songs, puppets and a false overly-sweetened personality. However, he comes to learn that what he sees is the true personality. Rogers’ Fred and Mr are very much the same. As he finds his eyes being opened, against the adversity of strained relationships, his time spent with his wife and newborn child, and, of course, his everyday life the emotional factor of the film grows. There aren’t simple bursts dotted throughout the piece and the carefully constructed screenplay, this is a film that builds up emotion alongside care – creating a unique warm brand; similar to that brought by Rogers himself – gradually building it up for a truly effective nature as the film goes on instead of restarting after each watery-eye-generating moment. When mixed with the dashes of humour that are spread throughout – never laughing at the characters and there behaviour, but more admiring their quirks and how others might respond to them, even an extended moment of Rogers struggling to set up a tent is finely tuned with a light coating of sweetened charming humour instead of laughter at the man himself – there’s a real sense of genuine heart and control to the film – clearly helmed with great precision by director Marielle Heller. All while avoiding a feeling of overdone sugary, syrupy sap.
As everything comes together and each character becomes more sympathetic, while still avoiding a forceful feeling, you can’t help but want to be more a part of the film. The echo of “won’t you be my neighbor?” is heard throughout the film and the viewer takes the hand of Rogers and the invite itself. Gently guided through the narrative as Vogel begins to experience some form of transformation, going from a 400 word addition to an almost 9,000 word article (something of an editors nightmare). A change that never feels instant as if snapping in a split second, as is often the case with Scrooge – the instant comparison for any cynic turned more open, caring figure – but a gradual process that you can see. One of reluctance, hesitation, rejection and struggles. All told through the eyes of a relatively family-friendly PG lens. With such a tone and style it manages to avoid feelings of cliche and convention. Instead bringing the viewer in for 108 minutes of calm and kindness. Something which a number of people potentially need right now. Provided in a way that never feels exclusively for kids or as if it’s talking down to the viewer. Instead openly inviting them in for a personal, thoughtful and still enjoyable experience. Wholly encapsulating the essence of Mr Rogers while managing to successfully tell a story of one man’s journey to becoming a simply better person. By the end you’re sat in equally reflective silence as you consider what you’ve seen, all the emotion and all the joy. And if you’re not stuck to your seat throughout the credits, make sure to stick around for the delights within them.
Warm, charming, thoughtful, emotional and funny; the list goes on, A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood is a fantastic blend of everything that made Mr Rogers. A kind and caring tale of people becoming better with the strong support of Tom Hanks’ fantastically performed Fred Rogers. A gentle hug of a film, and very possibly America’s Paddington.