Heroes come in all shapes and sizes, but few have left a mark in American culture as much as the heart of gold wrapped in a cardigan, Mr Rogers. For those living anywhere outside of the U.S., the name may not strike a chord, which makes Tom Hanks stepping into those comfy looking sneakers and introducing audiences to the children’s show host a sure-win. The toughest job though (as it becomes quickly apparent), is from his co-star sitting across from him.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood may shine a spotlight on the saintly Fred Rogers, but the story is really about the man tasked to learn what made him tick. The Americans star Matthew Rhys plays real-life Esquire journalist Lloyd Fogel, who by already seeing the world a glass-half-empty is dubious of what’s in Fred’s to make him be just so damn nice. Here’s where director Marielle Heller establishes the weary perspective of the Neighbourhood of Make-Believe’s newest visitor so brilliantly.
In between detailed reenactments of Mr Rogers show through miniature sets and Hanks looking down the lens at the audience, Heller hangs on awkward silences between TV’s sweetest soul and the man befuddled by him. Leaning in on the conversations that feel laughably uncomfortable, comprised of an exceptional script from Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster, it establishes Fogel’s view of a man that, in his eyes at least, is just a little off.
He isn’t, of course, because as was a well-known trait of dear old Mr Rogers that’s so perfectly captured by Hanks; he was just a genuinely sweet guy who wanted to be a force of good for everyone, even Rhys’ doubtful journo. This comes to an almost heartwarming light with each encounter, showing the latter try and recalibrate having a one-to-one conversation with a person who doesn’t appear to have a bad bone in his body, but then there’s doubt neither does the man playing him.
It’s like a wonderful power play that has no losers, only the best intentions and you’ll well up with almost every meeting.
Hanks handles the role without a hitch, capturing the cadence and compassion of the small screen saint he’s playing, leaving the heavy lifting for Rhys’ as Fogel lets slip little details about his life and its current troubles. As Rodgers takes it on board with a pause of silent reflection and sadness over what he’s hearing, Fogel doesn’t quite pour out his heart but lets it trickle over what’s troubling him in an interview he started conducting, but quickly becomes the subject of. It’s like a wonderful power play that has no losers, only the best intentions and you’ll well up with almost every meeting.
When Fogel isn’t being tested with this angel of the TV airwaves, he’s throwing his frustrations at the equally welcome Chris Cooper as his estranged on-screen Dad, while the somewhat underutilised Susan Kelechi Watson as Fogel’s wife, Andrea, looks on. Trying to keep the peace (and her husband) with coming to terms with being a father himself. But then that’s what this film is all about; to look for those in need and help in any way we can, and its a message perfectly pitched by all those involved but especially Hanks and Rhys. A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood is what everyone needs right now. Mark it in your calendar immediately.