By midlandsmovies, Jan 30 2020 08:32PM
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019) Dir. Marielle Heller
When I heard about the film I honestly thought we were going to get a slightly seedy exposé of all-American nice guy and children’s television presenter Ted Rogers.
However, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a much more intriguing movie covering redemption, innocence and forgiveness from Marielle Heller, the director of one of my favourites of last year Can You Ever Forgive Me (our review).
Matthew Rhys plays Lloyd Vogel, a middle-aged man just about coping with his past demons who still carries the weight of the loss of his mother, his anger at his father and the difficulties faced by the arrival of a new born son.
Trying, and failing, to maintain a sensible work-life balance between his wife (an excellent Susan Kelechi Watson) and his award-winning job as a serious-minded magazine journalist, he is one day surprised by his editor. She sends him from his base in New York to Pittsburgh for what seems like a “puff piece” as he is asked to interview Mr. Rogers.
Ted Rogers is a beloved television icon, famous for his softly spoken words and imaginative puppetry which resonated across generations of American children. Played by well-known “nice guy” actor Tom Hanks, he channels every bit of sweetness from his past films to recreate the persona of a man who positively affected millions of young people’s lives.
After Lloyd is involved in a punch-up with his father (Chris Cooper) at his sister’s third wedding, Rogers identifies that Lloyd is struggling internally with his life. And through their conversations, roles are reversed as Rogers begins asking simple questions about Lloyd’s life, childhood and the current troubles he’s facing.
The film cleverly frames the story around an episode of Mr. Rogers and Heller’s direction is straightforward which allows all the actors to shine through during their illuminating conversations. Heller also uses city and airplane models in the style of Mr. Rogers’ TV set to show scene transitions revealing an appropriate fun and childlike aspect to the film itself.
Reconnecting with childhood is a big theme in the movie and Rogers’ kind, patient and gentle demeanour is the same whether he’s speaking to children or adults. The soft-spoken approach acts as a psychologist’s window into past traumas, with Lloyd unable to resist the comforting and thoughtful words of Hanks’ gentle questioning.
One of the only failings of the movie is its inevitability. Once the pieces are set up the film goes nowhere other than the expected. Will the bitter and jaded old journalist find some kind of peace and redemption through Mr. Rogers’ advice? Well (spoiler), does Bill Murray like to star in Scrooged and Groundhog Day?
Despite this set back the journey is one that’s well worth going along with anyway. The performances from the main and support cast are fantastic. Obviously, Hanks is a master of real-life imitations and here embodies Rogers’ soulful view of the world. But high praise should also go to Rhys as the haunted journalist dealing with his past issues who is understated in a role that could have easily been too melodramatic.
In the end, A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood is well worth watching with its combination of fine actors delivering a slightly obvious redemption story. However, just like how Mr Rogers makes all the characters feel, it would take a hard-hearted viewer not to be truly affected by its honest sentimentality, leaving the audience at peace in this unashamedly feel-good and wholesome film.