A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Stars: Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Susan Kelechi Watson, Chris Cooper
Director Heller’s follow-up to the excellent ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?’ dramatizes and embellishes a real-life meeting between US children’s TV star Fred Rogers and a cynical, world-weary journalist. For the uninitiated (which will be most UK viewers who didn’t happen to catch recent documentary ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’) ‘Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood’ was a children’s show in which the titular presenter calmly addressed children from the comfort of his picket-fenced house. While Rogers came across as a simple folksy type, the show did not shy away from tackling the knottier aspects of life. Rhys is Lloyd Vogel, the award-winning-journalist despatched to interview Rogers (Hanks) for Esquire Magazine. Despite his professional success and marriage to the beautiful and smart Andrea (Watson), who is expecting their first child, Vogel is a downbeat figure, chiefly, it is revealed, due to the anger he still feels for his father, Jerry (Cooper), for abandoning Lloyd’s terminally ill mother. Initially Vogel is cynical about Rogers and suspects his motives, believing that no one can be as wholesome, but after spending some time with the seemingly infinitely compassionate host, he falls under Rogers’ spell, causing him to re-examine his own outlook. What could have been a predictable and treacly proposition turns out to be genuinely affecting, as well as a heart-warming tonic for these troubled times. Hanks is great, all disarming kindness & zen-like empathy, with Rhys a perfect foil. Only in a couple of fantasy sequences, and in Heller’s decision to render the exteriors like Rogers’ toy town sets, does the picture veer into the twee.