Kindness hits the big screen with full force: here’s our review of A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood.
The life of Fred Rogers may be a mystery to those who didn’t grow up watching children’s TV in the US, but A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood (I’m British, I’ve added the ‘u’) quickly fills in the requisite gaps. Rogers, played by Tom Hanks here, hosted over 900 TV shows, talking to children about real-life issues, and telling them each and every time how much they mattered. A documentary released last year charted his life, and you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re getting the biopic treatment with this new high-profile feature. But you’re not.
In fact, surprisingly, the character of Rogers is relegated to a supporting role in the movie, which instead follows Matthew Rhys’s Lloyd Vogel. Lloyd is in a tricky place. His relationship with his father (played by Chris Cooper) is strained at best. He’s struggling with a newborn son and supportive partner played by Susan Kelechi Watson. And when he’s assigned a 400-word profile piece on Rogers for his job at Esquire magazine, he’s not best impressed. Yet when Lloyd meets Rogers, his life very slowly starts to change. His kindness towards Lloyd starts to have an impact. And Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster’s screenplay – based on the real-life story of journalist Tom Junod – takes us gently off in slightly different directions than certainly I was expecting.
That said, there’s no crashing cinematic gimmick here. Director Marielle Heller – who came to the project off the back of her Oscar-nominated Can You Ever Forgive Me? – clearly knows what she had, and keeps her camera relatively still and very focused. She leaves breathing space in the film, as an unlikely relationship forms, and kindness floods off the screen.
It’s a really affecting piece of work, and Hanks – obviously – fits the role of Rogers to a tee. But Matthew Rhys more than matches him, delivering superb work in taking a not necessarily likeable character and having us yearn for goodness for him. Go with this one, and it’s a really moving, uplifting film that goes by in what seems like double time. It really sits aside from pretty much anything else in the multiplex over the last year too – a quiet, diligent slice of humanity. Perhaps there’s an argument that it’s just a little twee once or twice, but truthfully it didn’t bother me a jot. A really, really lovely piece of work.
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