#REVIEW: “A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD”
Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
As I await the birth of my first child, I find myself asking many questions about who I am now and what kind of parent I am going to be. This might seem trivial, but it explains the headspace I was in when I sat down to watch A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. The film centers around Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), a young Journalist tasked with writing a profile piece on Mister Rogers (Tom Hanks). Vogel has a strained relationship with his father, Jerry (Chris Cooper), and is a new father himself. Lloyd thinks the piece is beneath him, but as he begins interviewing and learning more about Mister Rogers, he finds his perspective on life begin to change.
With Neighborhood, Director Marielle Heller (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) crafts a wonderful and emotionally-stirring film that will make you smile with glee and uncontrollably weep, often in the same breath. I did not think there was much left to say about Fred Rogers after seeing the magnificent Documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? last year. I assume many others feel the same way, and that Heller is more than keenly-aware of this fact. But against the odds, she manages to make this story (based off real life Journalist Tom Junod’s Esquire profile piece “Can You Say…Hero?”) feel fresh, exciting and new. Alongside her Production Design and Editing teams, she recreates and remixes scenes from the show while repurposing some of the props and miniatures to guide the transitions between scenes. The effect is fuzzy and deliberately lo-fi, but the attention to detail in all of these moments is impeccable and charming. Yes, she reuses one particular reflective moment from the Doc (which works just as beautifully here as it did there), but she makes the rest of the experience so wholly-unique that it almost makes you forget that you are not watching the real thing.
Rhys does a great job holding the Film together as Vogel. Many might be surprised to find out he is the lead of the Film, but he holds his own – expertly balancing the needs of the character with the needs of being the audience’s surrogate. Supporting work from Cooper and This Is Us’ Susan Kelechi Watson (playing Vogel’s wife Andrea) are both well-done, each getting plenty of time to shine. They all pale in comparison however to the powerhouse work by Hanks as Mister Rogers. He commands the screen from his very first frame, speaking softly but firmly. He embodies every nostalgic aspect you can fathom about Mister Rogers and his TV program, right down to the cadence in his voice and the ticks in his movements. Hanks has always been a fantastic Actor, so none of this should sound surprising. But the way he is able to capture Mister Rogers’ essence is next-level and positively magical.
If I hold anything against Neighborhood, it is that the Film (much like the Doc) has a habit of hinting at and then skirting away from any darker or negative elements regarding Mister Rogers. It entertains the idea that he has flaws and some form of temper, but never really allows the time to explore either aspect of his personality. It is a minor quibble, as I can appreciate the Film treating the man with the reverence he deserves, but it feels like there is something missing.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is the kind of wonderful and heartwarming film that we do not get to see nearly often enough. The details and performances are beautiful, and Hanks is transcendent as Mister Rogers. I am smiling and ugly crying just thinking about it. No matter how old you are, it is worth a trip to this neighbourhood.
Sony Pictures Canada release A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD on Friday, November 22, 2019.