A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
dir Marielle Heller
scr Micah Fitzerman-Blue, Noah Harpster
prd Youree Henley, Leah Holzer, Peter Saraf, Marc Turtletaub
with Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Susan Kelechi Watson, Chris Cooper, Christine Lahti, Enrico Colantoni, Maryann Plunkett, Wendy Makkena, Tammy Blanchard, Maddie Corman, Michael Masini, Carmen Cusack
release US 22.Nov.19,
UK 6.Dec.19
19/US TriStar 1h49

watson cooper lahti
london film fest

hanks and rhys
There is a sliver of a Fred Rogers biopic in this warm drama, but director Marielle Heller makes it much more than that, telling a specific story that can't help but resonate even with viewers who have never seen his classic TV show. For those of us who grew up with it, the nostalgia is sometimes overpowering. But the film is sentimental without the schmaltz. And it speaks on levels much deeper than the obvious themes.
In 1998 New York, investigative journalist Lloyd (Rhys) is assigned a 400-word caption about children's TV host Fred (Hanks). While Lloyd visits Fred's Pittsburgh studio, he is distracted by the needs of his wife Andrea (Watson) and infant son, plus his estranged father (Cooper). But in brief conversations, Fred turns the tables on the interview, demonstrating that his deeply engaged persona is the same off-screen. And he provokes Lloyd to confront things in his life head-on, rather than just holding on to his anger out of a sense of misplaced loyalty to his late mother.
It may take a trained psychologist to unpick the issues gurgling here, but Mister Rogers' Neighborhood addressed these same ideas in ways children could understand. Heller frames this story as a special episode, complete with miniature establishing shots. And fantasy sequences send Lloyd into the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. Even more interesting are moments when the film pulls back the curtain to reveal how the show was made, and how Fred's curiosity and compassion infused everything.

Hanks is remarkable, capturing distinct vocal and physical inflections while also creating a layered character. This Fred may seem over-caring, but he's also realistic, and his interaction with Rhys' complex cynic is packed with terrific moments. Watson also brings some strong emotionality to her role, while Cooper creates a character who is believably wounded after years of running from himself. Each of the characters in the film is funny, snappy, fragile and perhaps too easy to identify with, underplayed to perfection.

As Lloyd's story progresses, writers Fitzerman-Blue and Harpster work in little details about Fred Rogers' personal life, while Heller playfully maintains an inventive visual approach that merges life and art in some very clever ways. Like Rogers' work, this is a film that cuts directly through surfaces to encourage people to express the truth about being human, even if it's painful. And to like each other exactly as we are right now.

cert pg themes, language 12.Oct.19 lff

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall