Tom Hanks starrer A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a biopic of American television personality Fred Rogers.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood movie cast: Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Chris Cooper, Susan Kelechi Watson
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood movie director: Marielle Heller
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood movie rating: 3.5 stars
A TV show like Mister Rogers' Neighborhood would be unimaginable now. A middle-aged man talking to people, essentially children, including with puppets, on goodness. How to hold this close not just in the happy times but also in the sad, particularly the angry, times. What happens when a journalist, as cynical as we come, assigned to write a harmless profile of the lovable Mr Rogers (Hanks), for a magazine issue on America's heroes, goes in determined to expose the real man behind that red cardigan-sneakers-beatific smile-happy eyes demeanour.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, directed by Heller whose Can You Forgive Me? was a film on another real-life person who in her disinterest in humanity was a complete contrast, is not as much about Fred Rogers as that journalist, Lloyd Vogel (Rhys). Taking off from an actual magazine article on Rogers by real-life journalist Tom Junod, the film alters it for a rather too in-the-face and linear storyline between a "broken" Vogel, his strained relationship with his dad, and the unlikely TV star who fixes him, despite himself.
Even as it does that, the film omits to mention that Rogers was also a Presbyterian minister. While that might be to lend the film a more secular appeal, there is no mistaking the importance of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. A man like Mr Rogers, who draws upon an endless well of faith in humanity, who is not afraid to address questions on heavy stuff like divorce and wars for children, and who stops to really ask an adult that simplest of queries, 'How are you?', could he survive our divisive times? Could he even find one picture-perfect neighbourhood that he evoked in his shows? What would he think of Trump's walls?
In an article in The Atlantic, Junod says he remained life-long friends with Rogers after his piece, and often has people asking him, after any disaster that seems catastrophic at the time, 'What would Mr Rogers Do?'. Junod, the doubting journalist, says he has no doubt whatsoever: Rogers would be, like he always promised, "on the side of the helpers".
It's difficult to think of anyone other than Hanks playing Rogers, and the actor has picked another Oscar nomination for the role. However, Rhys holds his own, as does Cooper, as the dysfunctional son and father. In allowing Rogers into their worlds, they offer hope for ours.