Thursday 12 December 2019

Film Review: A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood

Director Marielle Heller's A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood is a tender yarn about the importance of empathy and understanding amidst familial turmoil and tragedy.

Cynical magazine journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) is a writer with a reputation. Known for his biting critiques of high-profile subjects, Vogel begrudgingly accepts an assignment to write an Esquire profile of beloved children's television presenter, Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks).

Having not grown up with Rogers and his genial personality on television, the closet parallel to non-American audiences would be something like Play School, Sooty and Co or Blue Peter. A cute and colourful show with puppets, castles and storybooks, Rogers is revered by audiences who grew up watching his show, which is why Lloyd is tasked with profiling him an Esquire issue on heroes.

Charged with cynicism, Lloyd is our entry point into Rogers' wholesome world. Outside of work, he is struggling to find his footing as he ventures into fatherhood for the first time, while also grappling with a longstanding rift with his own dad (Chris Cooper). And although their initial interview is a little fraught, Lloyd and Rogers come to spend more time together, reshaping how the former sees the world along the way.

Some cute visual flourishes set A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood apart from your run-of-the-mill biopic. In place of regular scene transitions, Heller stages quaint children's TV sets that evoke Trumpton or Thunderbirds, complete with little toy cars that tootle along and planes that dangle from strings. Nate Heller's score is similarly gentle and pure, further welcoming you into the innocent world of Mr Rogers' show – and by extension, his life.

Matthew Rhys' Lloyd is essentially the audience's POV into Rogers' world, which works for people like myself you know next to nothing about the latter. Lloyd is an interesting main character, in that he feels like little more than a collection of cliches – self-important journalist, consumed with his work, shabby appearance – but still manages to keep you invested, even if his characterisation is (for lack of a better word) generic.

Hanks' performance is an interesting one too in that it is almost certainly intended to be fatherly and sweet, but sometimes dips into vaguely sinister territory. Rogers is treated with a saintly reverence that doesn't seem realistically attainable by any mere human, and while the film does touch on this, it feels like Hanks' quiet demeanour is building towards a crescendo where he cracks – but that catharsis (for want of a better word) never arrives.

Rogers, based on the evidence of this film alone, must have never snapped or sniped, let alone scowl – which makes the performance both impressive in its consistency or strange in its simplicity. I'm not sure which, but I don't think that's Hanks' fault – more a curiosity of the writing? Ultimately, this film doesn't scratch deep enough beneath Rogers' sugary exterior.

Instead, A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood is a film about Vogel and how entering Rogers' orbit brought about an emotional journey about finding forgiveness and the struggles of becoming a father. It's pleasant, funny and touching – but there's something missing that sees it fall short of greatness.

The Verdict: 7.5/10

A calming, almost therapeutic, film that soothes the soul and acts as a reaffirmation of empathy, A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood is character study that doesn't dig too deep – but is worth a watch nonetheless.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood opens in cinemas across Australia on 23 January 2020.

1 comment:

  1. This was such a surprise for me. I didn't expect to be moved by it nearly as much as I was since I wasn't a frequently Mister Rogers watcher. I loved it.



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