BFI London Film Festival: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Directed by Marielle Heller
Starring Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Susan Kelechi Watson and Chris Cooper
Screening at LFF October 12th & 13th 2019

by Alex Plant

Who do you get to play the most beloved children’s television host in American history? Why, America’s most beloved actor, of course! Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood delighted and inspired American kids for over 30 years, so it’s only fitting that an actor with an equally spotless reputation step into his sneakers for this wonderful film that is inspired by a true story.

Thorny Esquire journalist Lloyd Vogel (Rhys) is commissioned to write an article on Fred Rogers (Hanks) for an upcoming issue dedicated to heroes. Vogel is sceptical that the squeaky-clean Rogers is all that he seems, but over a series of interviews and visits to ‘The Neighborhood’ Lloyd forms a bond with Rogers that causes him to reevaluate certain aspects and relationships within his own life.

When Lloyd first gets his assignment, his wife admonishes him to not “ruin her childhood.” Thankfully, if you also grew up with Rogers as your spirit animal, then your childhood will still feel intact after watching this film. In fact, it might even seem further enriched by it. Director Marielle Heller has crafted a delightful film that pays tribute to the legacy of Fred Rogers but also serves as a great introduction to the man, his work and his ethos for those unacquainted with him. Particularly effective is the way that Heller makes Lloyd’s world seem so cold and sterile before the introduction of Rogers into his life, which brings a subtle injection of warmth and colour. The authentic look and 4:3 aspect ratio of Rogers’ show are lovingly recreated here and there are some charming Neighborhood-esque miniatures used for certain transitions.

Tom Hanks is absolutely sensational. He’s spent a decent portion of the last decade portraying a variety of real people, but perhaps never as effectively as this. He has Rogers’ unique sincerity and iconic cadence down to a tee. It can be difficult to get away from how much Tom Hanks looks like, well, Tom Hanks sometimes, but much like when he played the similarly iconic Walt Disney, he utterly inhabits the role and simply becomes Mr. Rogers.

With A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Marielle Heller has brought to life a wholesome and uplifting tribute to the film’s central subject. It’s refreshingly un-schmaltzy and is likely to have you leaving the cinema feeling entirely uplifted and wondering what you can do to make the world a better place.


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