Marielle Heller returns with another unconventional biopic that is more interested in the humanity of its relationships than in worshipful recreations of historical events. That said, the love and care poured into every frame – notably on Mister Rogers’ iconic set – makes A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood a visual treat. This meticulousness underpins a jaded journalist Lloyd Vogel’s (Matthew Rhys) research into his assigned ‘hero’, making the small wonders and simple kindnesses of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood tangible. By employing the classic children’s television programme’s storytelling – puppets, songs, and animated stylings – Vogel and viewers are placed at the narrative’s heart, elevating a conventional tale of reconciliation and redemption to sublimity.
For a man who brought so much love into people’s homes, it is only appropriate that his portrayal is equally loving. Tom Hanks was born to play Fred Rogers. The man’s television talents and insistence on neighborly love need little embellishment, merely Hanks’ understated, unpretentious performance. While Rogers’ deep-seated religiosity is neither glossed over nor ridiculed, his motivations and accomplishments come through solely in his interactions. The film is less a story of Rogers than of the kindness he preached – while inspired by real events, Vogel becomes a stand-in for not only journalist Tom Junod but the many lives touched by Rogers’ unflappable belief in humanity. At the film’s heart, Rhys convinces as the belligerent, emotionally unavailable journalist who loses his malice, but not his sharpness, over the course of the narrative.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood reinforces Heller’s status as one of the most polished, humane directors working today. Hanks turns in a career-best performance here, and Rhys’ vulnerability makes Vogel’s classic tale of a re-examined life one of cinema’s most memorable. A more fitting tribute to the late, great beacon of kindness and decency is hard to imagine.
CAST: Matthew Rhys, Tom Hanks, Susan Kelechi Watson, Chris Cooper
DIRECTOR: Marielle Heller
WRITERS: Micah Fitzerman-Blue, Noah Harpster
SYNOPSIS: An investigative journalist’s difficult personality comes up against Fred Rogers’ belief in humanity in this bio-drama.