‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood’ Is Delightful and Touching
The film stars Tom Hanks as Mr Rogers.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood’
2020 was supposed to be the next big leap into a wondrous future for all of us, but the events unfolding around us don’t seem to match our expectations. Just 15 days into the year we’ve seen Australia on fire, while bots and trolls spread false arson claims, governments including our own attempting to install detention camps to persecute minorities, a rogue police officer found to have ferried terrorists from Kashmir to Delhi, the economy in shambles, a passenger plane in Iran being shot down, Indonesia being flooded, and those are all just the front pages.
So, it is quite pertinent when a movie about Mr Rogers, an exceedingly sane person, releasing in a clearly insane world appears to be insane. Against all odds, A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood becomes a delightful and touching experience, a movie that deftly grapples with our cynicism of the world, but with the kind of maturity rarely broached by its genre and emotionally manipulative cinematic tactics.
It is quite simply the most heartwarming film of 2019, seamlessly blending stirring emotions and the human urge to scream into the void. It is never easy to admit when a movie brings one to tears, but you’ll be hard-pressed to hide yourselves when Tom Hanks’ smiling face, looking directly at the camera in a take that goes on for what seems like a century reduces you to a weeping sack of mush.
Story details are best-kept secret; if you’re well aware of Fred Rogers and his work you’ll slip into the film right away, but even a cursory knowledge of Rogers or his on-screen character is enough information to walk into this film. Director Marielle Heller does not shy away from twee storytelling, but her sensitive and light touch ties a tight line between emotionally devious and the emotionally resonant – resulting in a tenderness that seems earned and never forced. That sort of balance is hard to achieve. It’s just dark enough thematically but also conventional enough, thanks to a narrative framework of introducing us to the story through Mr Rogers’ show, to be consumed by people of all ages.
Hanks as Mr Rogers is predictably fantastic – he never stops being funny and strange, fleetingly giving us a peep into the core incidents that created the lovable TV personality, and the briefest glimpses into whether there’s another person inside bursting to get out.
His screen presence is only upstaged by the moments when he gets inside the head of a journalist (Matthew Rhys) who in turn is attempting to get inside Rogers’ head. There’s also an unabashedly crowd-pleasing moment in a train when a bunch of passengers gang up to sing the titular song when they recognise their hero sitting with them.
The only real crutch is Chris Cooper’s stereotypically drunk father character – it’s not that he’s not grounded in reality because he definitely has a fully rounded story arc - but mainly he’s just a conflict primer. Like a cog in a storytelling machine, he changes as each situation demands, and he’s not particularly complex, plus the family drama he carries is obtuse rather than organically positioned. His presence in the film is streamlined for whatever is needed to get Mr Rogers to heal his new journalist friend’s woes. The narrative parallel, however, is clever, tying up the process of healing and forgiveness with his TV show that attempts to help children deal with their emotions in a practical manner. Adults, after all, are even worse than children when the chips go down, even though historically the opposite has been accepted.
Some elements may be exhibitionistic, but the images that you’ll remember the most in this movie are the transition scenes that match cut from cityscapes to the miniature toy versions in Mr Rogers’ TV show - there is something very poetic about those shots, they’re wonderfully understated in nature and present a universal desire to see the world through children’s eyes.
When juxtaposed to Hanks’ near-perfect impression of Rogers singing and changing coat jackets, the melancholic beauty of the film is overwhelming, chiefly because of the peaceful nature of the moments. Even during other instances when the silences render the emotional drama of the film that cut deepest, the playful elements like Rogers struggling on set with a tent make it fun.
You’ll never know whether Rogers was purposefully being foolish with the tent, but you’ll know it was purposeful and necessary because Rogers, through Hanks, makes it clear that a primary purpose of your life, whether you’re in control or not, is to love whoever is around to be loved and listen as much as you can. It could be difficult to accurately contextualise such gentle messaging when the world burns around us, but a metaphorical warm blanket has always been Mr Rogers’ magical offering.
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