The film treats its audience like little kids and addresses topics pertaining to feelings, life and death, gingerly with kid gloves.
It is about relationships and has been inspired by the 1998 article “Can You Say… Hero?” by Tom Junod, published in Esquire.
Written by Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster, the film focuses on the very personal connection the jaded journalist Llyod Vogel (Mathew Rhys) of Esquire (a fictionalised version of Junod), had with the television personality Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks).
It captures the blossoming of the writer’s personality after interacting with the beloved icon while writing his profile. Fred Rogers was the creator and host of the popular children’s TV show, “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”.
What makes the film stand out is the way it is conceptualised. Initially, the narrative appears amateurishly mounted. But as the story progresses, you get hooked to the characters and their lives, and realise that the narrative of this film bookends itself as if it is a very special episode of “Mister. Rogers’ Neighborhood”, allowing Hanks’ Rogers to tell the story of an absent father and his long suffering son.
It is a fascinating way to tell Vogel’s story about how he copes with his disinterested dad Jerry, played here with equal gusto and fragility by Chris Cooper.
As a depressive adult who lives in New York City with his wife Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson), Lloyd travels to Pittsburgh to write a story about Rogers. At first he feels insulted by such a soft assignment but he reluctantly, and soon, finds Fred’s worldview fascinating. With as much baggage as Lloyd has, he finds the softspoken, openhearted Fred to be somewhat an aberration. Ultimately even he can’t resist Rogers’ charms.
What the film captures is that Rogers, beneath his dry parson’s manners, is in touch with his inner child because he recognises that children are radically richer than we give them credit for. We focus, says Rogers, on what they’re going to be. But they already are themselves.
Much of the film, however, delves into some uncomfortable moments between Lloyd and his father, which adds up to an immersive experience into Rogers’ aesthetics, which is positive, amiable and loving.
Thus, inadvertently, Rogers truly changes Lloyd’s world, offering a generosity of spirit carefully crafted to combat the evils within himself.
Hanks’ disarming performance, convincingly imitates the mannerisms of Rogers. He slows his speech to get Rogers’ soothing cadence and walks with a vulnerability that reminds us that he’s not just playing a character on a TV show but a person with his own fears and pain.
Matthew Rhys too, as Lloyd offers a wonderfully subtle and unforced work here. His downward turn of his head during some difficult scenes speaks volumes and his rapport with Watson. It brings some welcome humour to the proceedings.
Ultimately “A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood” is a very calming film that will make you smile throughout its runtime. It will never be known as one of the best films of the decade, but it surely is one of the sweeter films of recent times. In fact, your threshold for mush will definitely colour your opinion about the film as a whole. And, for those who share the same issues as the central character, this film will definitely serve as a sort of therapy.