A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (releasing in the UK in 2020) is a bio-pic based on the article “Can You Say… Hero?” by Tom Junop. Directed by Marielle Heller, who directed Can You Ever Forgive Me? last year, this film stars Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys and Chris Cooper. When investigative journalist Lloyd Vogel (Rhys) is assigned a piece on Fred Rogers (Hanks) being a hero, Vogel ends up learning a lot about himself through the eyes of Rogers and his impact in society.
Unlike other bio-pics released in the past few years, what this film does differently is not focusing primarily on the subject matter of the person. In this case, the film may be about Fred Rogers and his story, but it is not told through his perspective and it is not focused primarily on his journey. Instead, it is focused on Vogel and his journey as he interviews and learns about Fred Rogers and everything that he stood for. Some people may leave the film disappointed that Tom Hanks is a supporting role in this film, but I found the main storyline so captivating that I found the decision to be bold and strong in impact.
Another way that this film differentiates itself from other bio-pics is down to the directing style chosen by Heller. Instead of presenting a standard, Hollywood version of the story, Heller instead tells the story in a quirky and different presentation that works only for this subject matter and focus point of Mister Rogers. Not only does this add charm to the film in itself, but it creates a strong narrative structure for the film and ends up having a more emotional impact by the end of the film.
Tom Hanks is incredible in the role of Fred Rogers, balancing a fine line between disappearing into the role and being recognisable as the icon, and yet shying away from becoming an imitation. Going either way further would hurt the impact of the role and leave a bad taste in viewer’s mouths, and yet his performance is perfectly sweet and human. Matthew Rhys also gives a fantastic performance, and one that is going unnoticed due to all of the focus being on Hanks. His performance is gripping, emotional and yet incredibly real, and I appreciated all the subtleties in his role throughout the film.
Whilst this film may be presented in a quirky and unique style, this film still is very grounded in reality and relies on smaller moments to make a huge impact. There is one sequence in particular that takes place in a diner and is completely silent for a minute. You know the audience is fully invested in this film at this moment because the entire audience goes silent along with the characters. It is long enough that you can digest the information given by the film and dwell on your own thoughts at that moment, but it never feels awkward. This is a beautiful little moment and a scene that will easily make my top of the year list.
Despite never having a personal connection to Mister Rogers or his show, and only learning about his existence last year due to the popularity of the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbour? across the world, this ended up having a major impact on me. I ended up crying at three separate moments in this film, and they weren’t even the big moments or the main storyline sequences. It was the smaller moments, the little actions that Mister Rogers did and the showcase of the impact that he had to millions of people, that ended up making me emotional. I cannot explain my feelings and why this film hit me so hard on that level, but I can express it.
So much care and attention clearly went into making this film, and people knew how important it was to be true to Mister Rogers and his legacy. When hearing that Fred’s wife Joanne allowed the use of Fred’s wardrobe and props to help capture the spirit of him truly here, it shows how much people cared about this project. That love showed as all of the technical aspects came together to create a beautiful piece of work. I also adored the balance between the fantasy elements and the grounded sequences, somehow tying together to visually showcase the emotions that Vogel, in particular, is feeling and how that is communicated to the audience. It not only ties into the narrative and style of the film, but is a softer way of presenting a harder subject matter and manages to balance all of the tones beautifully.
This film was my most anticipated film for the second half of this year and it still managed to exceed those expectations. I was worried that the individual storylines wouldn’t work together, but they are told not only beautifully through the script but also due to the performances and style of the film. If I say that I cried three times in this film and it now has the title of my favourite film of 2019, does that make it clear how much I would recommend this film to other people?
Have you had a chance to check out A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood yet? Did you fall in love with it as much as I have? Let me know in the comments section and let’s have a discussion.