A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood Nov 23, 2019 22:36:54 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on Nov 23, 2019 22:36:54 GMT -5
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019)
Directed by: Marielle Heller
Directed by: Marielle Heller
Tom Hanks dons a red cardigan and transports us to the "Neighborhood of Make Believe" in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.
The thought of a film featuring Mister Rogers isn't as attractive as a film about Mister Rogers, in theory. But watching A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, it doesn't take long to remember that so many of us have a personal connection to the man himself. We recall watching him before school, looking to him as a father figure, or simply just enjoying his presence. This low-key, inspiring picture encapsulates that and more.
Just when I thought I was entirely done wiping tears away from my face every time I reflected on moments from Won't You Be My Neighbor? — the acclaimed documentary about Mister Rogers' life, career, and legacy — I found more ready and willing to be shed watching A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Something about Mr. Rogers and his simple songs and demeanor have a direct connection to my tear-ducts, even as an adult. Maybe it's nostalgia. But I can watch several episodes of shows like Arthur and Recess and not shed a tear. I have a feeling the resurgent interest in inherently kind folks like Fred Rogers and Bob Ross is due to the persistence of hateful rhetoric in the political climate and the culture in general. I reiterate a point I made in my review of Won't You Be My Neighbor?: "maybe once a year, if we're lucky, a film comes along and reminds you that you're human as it makes you reflect on and even produce deeply human emotions."
Once more, this is one of those films.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood isn't a biopic on the television icon, although it's bound to be misconstrued as one for the rest of time. Instead, it's based on the Esquire article "Can You Say... Hero?" by Tom Junod. We meet Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), who is working at Esquire magazine and living with his lovely wife, Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson), and their newborn son. Lloyd has a contentious relationship with his father, Jerry (Chris Cooper), after he abandoned his dying wife and went on the prowl for other women. It's a fractured relationship that has stunted his own ability as a father and a man in ways he can't even see. When his boss assigns him to write a 400-word "fluff piece" on a hero, in this case, Fred Rogers, Lloyd begrudgingly accepts the assignment, even though he feels it's beneath him. But when faced with Rogers' low-budget set and the man's avuncular ways, he can't help but feel something when he's in the presence of a true hero. Even if he responds to it with a great deal of resistance and apprehension at the beginning.
Rogers is played by Tom Hanks, who is probably in line for his sixth Best Actor nomination come time for the Academy Awards. Hanks doesn't give a "chameleon performance," so to speak, in the regard that he doesn't disappear into the role. Like Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, and a handful of instantly recognizable faces, he's far too ubiquitous to achieve that ability without either a warehouse full of makeup or a cameo role. However, Hanks absolutely nails Rogers' cadence, from his soft-spoken delivery to his eminently gentle way of talking directly to a person. The scenes where it's simply Hanks' Rogers and Rhys' Lloyd are where he really shines. Kudos to director Marielle Heller, too, for featuring dramatized on-set instances where Rogers' overly friendly ways and frequent sidetracked nature caused filming to stall.
Speaking of Heller, here's a woman who has been one of the most interesting directors you've probably never heard of yet. Her debut was The Diary of a Teenage Girl, an intimate picture about a young woman coming to grips with her sexual awakening with a square mother and a lackluster support system of friends. She followed that up with Can You Ever Forgive Me?, the Melissa McCarthy drama that nabbed a couple Oscar nominations. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a worthy third picture for a woman who is both accomplished and detail-oriented behind the camera. She knows how to find the soul in many scenes, such as when Rogers addresses a gash on Lloyd's face, which came from a physical confrontation with his father. Heller has said in the past that she is drawn to stories about people moreso than great events, because she enjoys finding ideas and topics that are "uncomfortable to talk about" or "human beings trying to navigate through the world." A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood belongs to the latter category, and it shows incremental growth for a director whose name you better be paying attention to going forward.
The recreations of Rogers' set at Pittsburgh television station WQED are absolutely terrific, right down to the "Neighborhood of Make Believe," featuring noteworthy appearances from folks such as Lady Aberlin, Daniel Striped Tiger (who can still produce tears just by the presence of his relatable shyness), and King Friday. Similar to The Disaster Artist, in its recreation of famous scenes from Tommy Wiseau's The Room, and the way Quentin Tarantino effectively timed and remade moments from The Great Escape in Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood, it'd be captivating to see how some of the sequences here would match-up with episodes of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. I don't believe you'd find an episode that was synced with the nightmare sequence involving Lloyd in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, though, which serves as one of the most creative Heller and writer Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster devise.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood may not be the movie you're expecting, but that's okay, in the end, for the picture you get is a heartwarming exercise in empathy and forgiveness. I can be accused of being too hard on films that are overly sentimental or mawkish, which is a fair point. But here, it all feels effective and true to one of the subjects being profiled, even if that subject doesn't always take center-stage. In the end, that's okay too.
NOTE: My review of Won't You Be My Neighbor?, the acclaimed documentary on Fred Rogers' life and legacy: stevethemovieman.proboards.com/thread/6117/neighbor
Starring: Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Susan Kelechi Watson, and Chris Cooper. Directed by: Marielle Heller.