What better way to start the new year than with a charming reminder about the importance of kindness? Staring two-time Oscar winner, Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a poignant story about compassion, friendship and human decency.
Offering a nostalgic experience for American audiences who can reminisce on their childhood years of watching television personality, Fred Rogers, the film was inspired by the real-life friendship between Rogers himself and journalist, Tom Junod. Yet despite the somewhat specific context, the film still manages to reach those far more removed, as the feel-good script written by Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster encourages the audience to self-reflect and remember the wonder of childhood.
Set in 1998, the film follows the story of cynical Esquire journalist, Lloyd Vogel, played by Matthew Rhys who is assigned the task of profiling the beloved TV icon, Fred Rogers (Hanks). Vogel is characterised as a typical tortured soul who – despite having a warm-hearted wife, Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson) and new baby – has lost touch with himself. Quick to separate Fred from his character, Mister Rogers, a sceptical Vogel shows his suspicion early and is determined to expose Rogers’ kindness and compassion as a false masquerade. However, he quickly discovers this is no easy task, and instead Vogel is forced to confront his own repressed childhood trauma of being abandoned by his father (Chris Cooper) at a young age.
Vogel eventually reaches breaking point, depicted on screen as an alternate reality where Vogel becomes an interactive prop within the fictional world of the show. This is a pivotal moment in the story as Vogel begins his journey of acceptance and self-discovery. But does the cynic become a believer? Does Vogel learn the healing powers of forgiveness? Well, you’ll need to watch the film to find out.
Although the story largely revolves around the life struggles of Lloyd Vogel, rather than Fred Rogers as audiences may expect, it’s not surprising Tom Hanks has been nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal of America’s favourite children’s television host. Sporting Rogers’ signature zip-up cardigan, tie, and trainers, Hanks lets go of his signature quirks and immerses himself in the role.
Directed by Marielle Heller, the film has a unique stylistic quality which can’t be ignored. This is recognised early with the use of a toy figurine town to establish the idyllic Neighborhood of Make-Believe and is later used to transition between locations. Heller again flexes her artistic muscles as she transports the audience into Vogel’s dream where he re-lives the emotional loss of his mother, constructed on screen like a live theatre show. The soundtrack is also a special component of the film, combining a whimsical orchestral score with moments of upbeat acoustic sound that makes the entire story feel like a fictional dream sequence.
The combination of heart-warming script writing and thoughtful direction proves there is power in small moments. One such moment is the subway scene, where passengers break out in song, lead by a group of children who sing Rogers’ iconic Won’t You Be My Neighbor? demonstrating how positivity and joy is truly contagious if you open your heart and mind to it.
Despite the simple narrative arc, the sweet sentiments of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood effectively pull at the heart strings, celebrating Fred Rogers’ doctrine of acceptance and selflessness which are timeless virtues for the young and old.
Movie Review By Caitlin Graziano