Unfolding like a warm, soothing & comforting embrace that gradually manages to take away all your anger, frustration & resentment with its powerful grasp & sense of assurance, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a life-affirming & soul-stirring drama that provides a fascinating glimpse into the life & guiding philosophy of the legendary TV personality whose resourceful & relentless kindness made him America’s most beloved neighbor.
The story follows a cynical journalist who is assigned to interview Fred Rogers, the popular host of a children’s show, by his editor for an article about heroes. Well-known for his scathing portrait of people he writes about, he believes Rogers’ nice persona to be an act that needs to be exposed and attempts to discern him but the more he learns about the man, the more he finds his kind-hearted nature inspiring a positive change in every facet of his troubled life.
Directed by Marielle Heller (known for The Diary of a Teenage Girl & Can You Ever Forgive Me?), A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a story of empathy, forgiveness & reconciliation that’s crafted with genuine care, composure & compassion, and comes equipped with all the wonderful qualities of the cultural icon inhabiting it. Heller’s direction is as sincere as it is restrained, and the patience & calmness with which she executes & narrates the plot makes it an engaging sit.
The screenplay doesn’t opt for a biographical approach and instead takes the outside-in route that introduces us to Fred Rogers’ life principles through the eyes of a cynic, thus mirroring the jaded journalist’s skepticism with that of our own, and then slowly tries to shift that perspective over the course of its 109 minutes runtime. The plot doesn’t delve deeper into Rogers’ personality so it may disappoint some but its powerful message of empathy, kindness & decency will resonate with most.
Structured like an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood to an extent, with the famous host bookending the plot with his usual routine, the film also employs puppetry & scaled down models of depicted locations in its narration. The camera utilises bright colours whenever Rogers in present to reflect his warmth, positivity & infectious charm, and though the plot unfolds at an unhurried pace, the steady editing makes sure the journey remains interesting & worthwhile despite a few hiccups.
The segments depicting the journalist’s own life story don’t pack the same emotional punch as scenes featuring Fred Rogers, for much of it feels derivative but it contributes enough to drive the picture home. Matthew Rhys plays him as intended, but he is easily overshadowed by Tom Hanks whose warm, graceful & assured performance in the role of Fred Rogers is as rich & affirming as it is honest & believable. The rest of the cast do well with what they are given but Hanks’ input towers above all with effortless ease.
Overall, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is gentle, earnest filmmaking at its best that’s brought to life with heartfelt warmth & elegance, and is amongst the most evocative films of the year. A gracefully directed, tenderly scripted & wonderfully acted cinema with an apt understanding of Fred Rogers’ teachings, Marielle Heller’s latest might play safe and isn’t as immersive or reverberating as last year’s documentary on Fred Rogers but it nonetheless manage to strike all the right chords and speaks directly to the heart to deliver a pleasant viewing experience that’s as timely as it is emotionally satisfying. Don’t miss it.