As promised by the lyrics in the title, A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood is bookended like an episode of children’s show Mister Roger’s Neighbourhood, the tinkly music chiming as Tom Hanks re-enacts Fred Rogers’ well known routine. The name is carefully chosen, as Marielle Heller’s feature doesn’t quite follow the star you’d expect, instead placing the viewer within ‘the neighbourhood’ of people who met, and inevitably befriended Mr Rogers.
Like many of the British audience, I didn’t grow up knowing of Fred Rogers and in what people have dubbed “an unconventional biopic”, this film doesn’t explore his humble beginnings from the church to children’s television. For that level of insight, you can watch the charming documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbour? from last year. Meanwhile, Heller’s masterpiece captures the emotional impact of Rogers’ simple ethos.
Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) is an investigative journalist, known for his scathing exposés that leave few willing to be interviewed by him. When his editor (Christine Lahti) informs him of these limited options, he is assigned the simple task of writing a 400-word profile for an issue on America’s heroes. Cynical at the prospect of interviewing a children’s television presenter, he leaves his wife (Susan Kelechi Watson) and child in New York and travels to WQED studios in Pittsburgh.
Vogel watches Mr Rogers (Tom Hanks) keep his exasperated crew waiting as he meets a kid visiting the set, producer Bill (Enrico Colantani) sighs and explains it is an everyday occurrence. Once on camera, Mr Rogers wrestles with a tent, perfect outtake material for others, but for him, exactly how the shot should be, so kids watching know that adults don’t always have the answers.
The interviewer quickly becomes the interviewee as Vogel, who has been dealing with family issues incredibly unhealthily, can’t help being seen by Rogers. The interactions that follow are precious and insightful, showing the receiving end of Fred’s powerful ability to be fully present and connect with even the most difficult of people. Though this story is streamlined for cinematic impact, much of it rings true. Vogel is based on Tom Junod, who wrote about meeting Rogers in 1998, and the film overall is an amalgamation of several, well-documented moments of hope.
Nobody is too old to grow emotionally, and every day presents a new challenge to aid that journey. As a religious viewer, it’s beautiful to watch this spiritual mentality in practice, and be reassured by the humanity in both characters at different stages of this journey themselves. The two stars complement each other magnificently, with the well-loved Hanks capturing Rogers’ uniquely genuine personality and the profound intensity with which he broke down walls like those Rhys’ character has constructed.
Marielle Heller cleverly merges the big city with the miniatures of the neighbourhood, mirroring how the fictional puppet stories were made to be a manageable microcosm of harsh reality. Nothing is too big or too small, and everyone deserves to be addressed. It may be an old-fashioned simplification set in a pre-9/11 society, but now more than ever, people of all ages need to be reminded of compassion, community and caring for their mental wellbeing. A Beautiful Day in The Neighbourhood introduces Mr Rogers’ timeless message, acting as a 107-minute therapy session for today’s stressful, self-destructive world.
A Beautiful Day in The Neighbourhood is in US cinemas 22nd November and the UK 6th of December
by Fatima Sheriff
Fatima is a third-year Biomed at the University of Sheffield. For insight into her personality, her favourite films are: Bright Star, Paddington 2, Taare Zameen Par and Pride & Prejudice and in 2017 she listened mostly to the Hidden Figures soundtrack. She loves TV shows with original concepts, witty writing, and diverse casting. Examples include Legion, Gravity Falls, and Sense 8. Her Twitter and TVShowTime are both @lafatimayette.