‘A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood’ is an interesting film from an Australian perspective, mainly because one of the film’s central characters, Fred Rogers, has no cultural relevance in this country whatsoever, but he is an absolute icon of American Television. Fred Rogers is the creator and host of the children’s TV program “Mr Roger’s Neighbourhood” which ran for over 30 years. He is a much-loved and respected TV personality. If I was to compare him to an Australian equivalent it would be someone like Bonita Collins, if she hosted Play School for 30 years!
A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood is set in 1998 and follows the story of a hard-nosed and cynical investigative journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) who is assigned by his magazine Esquire to write a short profile on Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks). The movie is based on the real-life friendship between Rogers and journalist Tom Junod. Despite trying his best to find skeletons in the closet of Rogers, a sceptical Vogel is eventually won over by the kindness and empathy shown to him by Rogers and uses the friendship he forged to help repair his own family relationships.
As mentioned before because Fred Rogers is not well known in Australia, I found the premise of watching the film a bit of a quandary. But having heard the opinions of some customers, both Australian and North American (all of whom regaled me with how they grew up with Mr Rogers!), and reading positive reviews, I thought I’d give it a shot and am reasonably happy I did. There is a great scene in the film, when some kids spot Fred Rogers on a train and start singing the theme song to his show and the whole carriage joins in, which illustrates fantastically how influential and loved Mr Rogers was.
From a technical perspective, the way the film jumps to 4:3 ratio when Mr Rogers is doing his show is a nice throwback, and the use of miniature sets shot in tilt-shift effect as segue between major scenes helps keep the film rolling, while keeping the feel nice and light.
Tom Hanks is perfectly cast as Fred Rogers, though I did find his voice and mannerisms a bit creepy at first! Matthew Rhys is also very good as the emotionally stunted journalist Vogel, but it Chris Cooper as Lloyd’s absent-but-wanting-to-make-amends father Jerry, and Susan Kelechi Watson as Lloyd’s long suffering wife who are the standouts in my opinion. They both complement Vogel’s growth as a father, husband and son without letting him get away with his at times terrible behaviour.
So, going in without knowing the history, A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood is a nice story of the importance of friendship, family and forgiveness – but if you’re American the added cultural context of the Mr Rogers legacy, probably adds something more.
3/5 – for Australians.
4/5 – for Americans.
Director – Marielle Heller
Writer – Micah Fitzerman-Blue, Noah Harpster
Stars – Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Chris Cooper, Susan Kelechi Watson
Rating – PG
Running Time – 104m
Genres – Drama, Biopic