Wednesday, 20 November 2019

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood ★★★★★

If there’s one thing we need right now, it’s a little bit of kindness. We’ve been living in such a hateful and divided world recently that we must look to the arts for escape. For some people, getting lost in a good video game. Others, a book. For me, it’s a film. At this year’s London Film Festival, there was one film that I built my whole trip around. A film I’ve been looking forward to since it was announced last year, and a film I have wanted for even longer. A film about Fred Rogers.

After last year’s phenomenal documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbour which found its way into my end of year best-of list, it was only a matter of time until somebody utilised the renewed interest in children’s television icon Mister Rogers for Hollywood. That somebody was celebrated, director Marielle Heller. And who better to bring one of the world’s most loved and trusted men to life than another one of the world’s most loved and trusted men – Tom Hanks.

For those of you who don’t know – and it’s understandable, Rogers’ audience was primarily in the US – Mister Rogers was an American television personality, musician, puppeteer, writer, producer and minister. He was primarily known as the creator, composer, producer, writer, showrunner and host of the preschool series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood which ran for 912 episodes from 1968 to 2001. Above all, though, Rogers is known as one of the purest, kindest and most wholesome individuals in the history of the human race – and that’s not hyperbole. Watching any documentary or reading any book on the man will tell you the same thing, and it’s this theory that forms the basis of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.

Inspired by a true story, cynical journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) begrudgingly accepts an assignment to write a profile on Mister Rogers (Tom Hanks) for Esquire magazine. The jaded journo can’t believe that what everyone says about Rogers’ kindness is true, but over the course of many weeks, as his article comes together, his perspective on life love is transformed forever by the time he spends with the great man.

It’s clear from the get-go that this is the role Tom Hanks was born to play. Uncannily matching the soothing cadence of Rogers, Hanks becomes a warm hug personified as he dons the iconic cardigans and sneakers of Rogers in this charming drama. Hanks exudes kindness and understanding in his poignant performance which has won the full approval of Rogers’ living widow Joanne Rogers who cameos in the film. But Hanks is a supporting role here, with the bulk of screentime going to Matthew Rhys’ Lloyd. Rhys portrays the transformation from cynical to wholesome so movingly that it is hard to not be swept up and inspired to become better people ourselves. 

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is widely being labelled “the film we need right now”, but I disagree. It’s the film we will always need, for as long as there is hate in this world – which it feels like there always will be. This is a warm, heartfelt and soothing masterpiece that will inspire even the coldest, jaded hearts to change. Biased as I am as a Rogers fan, I absolutely adored every second of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood and I think you will find it very difficult to not be swept along by its charms yourself. A beautiful day indeed.

Sam Love

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