A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019)
Director: Marielle Heller | Runtime: 109mins | Biography, Drama
Pessimistic journalist Tom Junod (Matthew Rhys) struggles to deal with his home-life and the relationship with his estranged Father (Chris Cooper). When he is asked to do a piece on legendary children’s TV presenter Fred Rodgers (Tom Hanks), he finds his outlook on life slowly changing.
In a sea of misused power and deceitful identity among many showbiz types, one of the most refreshing discoveries was that beloved TV host Fred Rogers was exactly who he said he was, a down to earth man that truly believed in his shows message, showing children love and teaching them important life lessons. The question then is who do you get to play the nicest man in show business? Enter the second most beloved figure in the business, Tom Hanks. This is probably some of the best casting you’ll see all year, as Hanks’ charisma and loveability sells you immediately, but it’s his skill as a veteran that really captures your heart, turning the campier scenes into moments of tenderness and importance.
While Hanks’ Mr Rogers acts as the fight against cynicism, it’s the opposition that is main focus of this movie – the real-life journalist Tom Junod. Played by Matthew Rhys, he is the embodiment of cynical behaviour both in his work and his family life. Whatever your opinion of Rhys, he does well to sell this character quickly, conflicting with his Father and in his work but finding some optimism in the form of his wife and new baby. He struggles to find a reason to forgive or to be a good person, something that eventually comes to the attention of Fred Rogers, and when they eventually do clash heads the two actors manage to somehow build rapport as polar opposites, and that comes down to their unlikely chemistry.
The movie does occasionally become a little melodramatic, doesn’t matter if they are true or not watching Fred and Tom pray in a diner, for other people to join them, is somewhat over the top. But despite it’s melodramatic tendencies director Marielle Heller uses her story carefully, she doesn’t tell it by the numbers but instead uses Mr Rogers’ show as an opening introduction, and also as a lifting off point in Tom’s identity change. At the lowest point of Tom’s physical and mental being he seems to be caught in a nightmarish take on Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood that sees reoccurring characters taking the form of his family members. It’s scenes like this that push the film to a more inventive level, drastically changing it’s central character in an nontraditional way, all while keeping within the stories motifs.
Whether or not you watched Fred Rogers as a child you’ll learn by now what kind of person he was, and the film encapsulates that so well. It doesn’t paint him as a superhero but a man that chooses to avoid the hate and rather focus on the good in people, and for all of Tom’s shortcomings his transition is believable because of the impact Fred Rodgers has on him. Both Hanks and Rhys are wonderful and the film as whole, while falling into a formulaic state occasionally, finds ways to tell it’s story interestingly, all while maintaining a high level of optimism and humanity.