LFF 2019: A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood Is An Homage To Fred Rogers’ Legacy

Credit: SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT

“It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood. A beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine? Could you be mine? Won’t you be my neighbor?” These are the words of one of the most beloved children’s television series of the last few decades – at least in the US. To audiences across the globe, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood might be less of a childhood staple.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood tells the story of the cynical journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), whose attitude towards life changes after he is assigned to profile Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks), the famous children’s entertainer and creator of the television programme Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. Throughout his interactions with the quirky Rogers, Lloyd also starts to open up about the difficult relationship with his estranged (and terminally ill) father. The film is based on Esquire journalist Tom Junod’s real-life encounter with Fred Rogers while writing the article “Can you say… Hero?”.

This is a film of heartbreak and suffering, as much as it is a film about closure and moving on. Rogers’ ability to make children understand and ultimately confront their complicated feelings is clearly paralleled in his interactions with the adult Lloyd. Their unexpected connection and resulting friendship make for an entertaining and surprisingly self-reflective ride.

Marielle Heller’s direction is delicate and nuanced, which makes this a suitable follow-up to last year’s major awards snub Can You Ever Forgive Me. Tom Hanks is perfectly cast and plays Rogers with a sensitivity and patience that could have easily come off as cliché and kitschy, but ultimately turns the movie into a thoughtful deep-dive into emotional well-being; it is indicative of the legacy Rogers created.

But don’t expect A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood to be a Fred Rogers biopic. Unfortunately, the film focuses much more on the dickish Lloyd and his troubles than it does on its titular hero. Not much is revealed about the intriguing character that so effortlessly gets Vogel to crack, and in a weird, almost cathartic way, makes the audience re-evaluate their emotional state at the same time.

If you’re unfamiliar with Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, some of the cinematic choices will seem odd, and some of the characters and “easter eggs” featured in the film fail to elicit the expected emotional response. A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood in itself functions as a feature-length episode of Mr. Rogers, which will certainly delight those that grew up with the programme, but might leave those that didn’t somewhat unaffected.

 

A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood celebrated its UK premiere at the London Film Festival and will be released in cinemas on December 6.

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