A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
A quick film review from me today. I went to see this at the weekend – and I simply adored it. It made me cry, it made me laugh a little, it certainly made me feel good – do go and see it.
‘Mister Rogers’ – Fred Rogers, was a revered American children’s TV personality. His shows ran from the late 1960s until 2001 (he died in 2003). They were educational in nature, but psychological rather than being subject based, teaching children to understand their emotions, what to do if they get scared or cross, and especially how to be kind. Mister Rogers did this with a core group of characters from his ‘neighborhood’ and a set of hand puppets which he operated. Each programme would start with shots of the model neighborhood with a moving trolley bus and car, panning into Mister Rogers’ house, where he would arrive singing the theme song ‘Won’t you be my neighbour’ while changing his outdoor jacket and shoes to cardie and sneakers. Rogers had eschewed the seminary for working in TV, but although he was devout, he didn’t evangelise on screen.
The world of Fred Rogers and his show has been lovingly recreated in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, starring Tom Hanks as Mister Rogers. However, the main character of the film is Lloyd Vogel, played by Matthew Rhys. Vogel is a journalist for Esquire magazine, renowned for his hatchet jobs on his interviewees. When he gets assigned to write a short profile on Mister Rogers for a special heroes edition of the magazine, he rebels – it’s not what he does. But eventually he is forced to arrange to go to Pittsbergh to meet Rogers on set, surely hoping to find some dirt on the nice guy of children’s TV.
At the same time, Lloyd is struggling with being a new dad and the dysfunctional relationship he has with his own father, whom he has disowned for many years. They have a punch-up early on at Lloyd’s sister’s third wedding, so he spends a lot of the first half of the film with a black eye and plaster on his nose. I won’t say any more about the plot, but you can largely guess what happens.
All the main players are perfectly cast – Rhys as the spiky New Yorker, Hanks as Rogers, supported wonderfully by Susan Kelechi Watson as Lloyd’s wife Andrea and Chris Cooper as his father. Directed by Marielle Heller, the film is wonderfully realised – there were many moments at the beginning where you think that the projection is not aligned, as the TV titles and top of Hanks’s head are often cropped – but think back to pre-digital days and old TVs and that’s how we’d see it.
This film also has exquisite moments of slow cinema. The way Hanks as Rogers lets thoughts hang in the air, forcing Lloyd to confront his own feelings.
There is one scene which was so cleverly done. Vogel and Rogers are having lunch (left). Rogers says, before we eat let’s just take a minute (and phew! it wasn’t to say grace,) to think about all the people that made us what we are. There’s no music, just silence, and about 20 seconds in, the camera pans into Hanks’s face and his eyes are looking directly at us, the audience. I gulped, silently, and did what he asked – as did the entire audience – you could have heard a pin drop, then it panned back to Vogel and the pair at the table and the minute was over. That was sheer cinema magic.
This film isn’t a full-blown weepie as such, but you will need a hanky – for sadness and joy. I cried a little at a couple of points. Ultimately it is a feelgood uplifting film that I absolutely loved. The theme tune is a complete earworm by the way – I’m still humming it. Not knowing about Mister Rogers in any detail, beyond seeing Hanks and Rhys on Graham Norton a few weeks ago, wasn’t a bar to enjoying this film at all, and its portrayal of this complex but good man seems very real. If you do go, stay for the credits and a wonderful bonus towards the end.