“It has been crafted into something unique between being moving and heartbreaking”
Coming in as a British viewer, you would be excused for thinking that the emotional connection might be missing for Mr Rogers and his brand of family entertainment. While his show never really made its way from America to the UK, we certainly had shows and personalities like him. So when I found myself totally drawn and blown over by the warmth and sincerity of A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood, it came as quite a shock.
Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) is a journalist recently tasked with writing a profile on American Heroes and he has been given TV personality Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks). As a recent Dad he must juggle a new baby, his job as an investigative journalist and a once absent father who wants to rekindle their relationship. At first Lloyd is skeptical of Mr Rogers and his bubblegum sweet personality but as the two get to know each other, they both open up about their lives, history and what drives them to do what they do. With many biopics, the choice would be to solely focus on your main attraction of the subject but director Marielle Heller has wisely chosen to use Lloyd and his personal journey as a way to bring us into the world of Mr Rogers. Having Tom Hanks’ incredible performance as Mr Rogers play as a supporting role which helps grow Lloyd as a lead as he struggles with some tough life decisions.
One thing that is immediately clear is that Marielle Heller is a director that should not just be considered an up-and-comer, but as one of the best of the decade. In her first three features, Diary of a Teenage Girl, Can You Ever Forgive Me? and now with A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood she has successfully been able to create three period pieces that expertly capture the feel of their eras and environments. Whether it is CYEFM with its gritty realisation of 90’s New York or now with ABDITN which is able to do the same with Pittsburgh and the warmth that children’s shows of the 90’s captured. From now on Heller should be considered an awards front-runner for all upcoming efforts and it should be expected that Hanks and Heller have nominations ahead for them.
Something that is instantly noticeable from this movie is the performance from Hanks. Not only does it touch on the incredible heartfelt nature of Mr Rogers and his show but it plays on the star power that Hanks has been cultivating for over three decades. For those who know Mr Rogers, they are sure to feel a great connection to the performance and the words he says but for those who are being introduced for the first time, Hanks smiling face will be enough to ease them into the story. This comes apparent in one scene between Mr Rogers and Lloyd when Rogers asks for a minute of silence and not only does Lloyd participate but so does the entire restaurant that they have been talking in. It then becomes clear how quiet not only the scene is, but how the entire theatre has become entranced by Hanks. He has been bringing incredible performances for longer than I have been alive but somehow still finds someway new to impress. While performances in Forrest Gump and Toy Story are larger than life, here he is reserved and so understated that it no longer feels like acting, he just inhabits the role so perfectly.
When a movie has you blurry eyed by the end but also leaving feeling warm and satisfied, you know it has been crafted into something unique between being moving and heartbreaking. Heller has created something that connects with raw emotions that many will share. It’s not an easy task but it’s been accomplished so expertly by Heller and her team, with the movie not wasting a single moment. Every shot feels special and important and every performance is sincere. Heller is a powerhouse director, an expert at quiet moments in film and we are lucky to have someone create such incredible art. You will be hard pressed to find a movie that fills you with more warmth than A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood and I suspect it will become a fan favourite for those gloomy, rainy days.
Dir: Marielle Heller
Prod: Youree Henley, Peter Saraf, Marc Turtletaub, Leah Holzer
Cast: Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Susan Kelechi Watson, Chris Cooper
Release Date: 6th December 2019 (UK)