Friday, November 22, 2019

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood - Review

For many, the reassurances of a calming voice on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” was an essential piece of their childhood. From the basic subjects of emotions, the feeling of love or anger, and the beauty of friendship to the darker topics of war, divorce, and even death, one fateful PBS program covered it all. Fred Rogers has had an enduring impact on so many lives, and director Marielle Heller is here to remind everyone of how the inherent goodness of one man can mean so much.

Journalist Tom Juond’s life (Matthew Rhys) is enriched by friendship when he takes on an assignment profiling Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks). Through interviews and interactions, the philosophy and life of Fred Rogers takes on a new meaning, and shows Juond exactly what it means to be a human being.

Audiences are only a year removed from a beautiful documentary in 2018 that showcased the man himself, so director Marielle Heller had to immediately attempt something outside the typical biopic formula. Right off the bat, the choice is made to frame the entire film as an episode of the famed TV program, complete with a 45-second wall break near the end where you’d swear Tom Hanks is looking at you specifically. Heller directs with such ease and grace, taking what could’ve been a straightforward biopic, and instead making it a weird, accessible look at toxic masculinity and the people who affect us every day.

Yet, even with a large portion of the narrative focus diverted to the story of Matthew Rhys’ character, Tom Hanks remains the scene stealer and national treasure that he is. Hanks has reached a point in his career where it feels like many take his performances for granted, no matter how exceptional he is. As Fred Rogers, Hanks is brilliant, a shock to no one, and brings the patience, kindness, and gentle demeanor that so many associate with the man without going for a straight imitation. Instead, Hanks invokes many of the mannerisms and tones that Rogers takes, and in doing so, turns in one of 2019’s best performances.

In the end, it’s a film that avoids the easy path, completely resisting giving any gaze into the life of Rogers outside of this specific moment in time. And yet, the film still tells you everything you could possibly need to know about him. The narrative sticks to the journey of one man, and how a few brief trips to the titular Neighborhood forever alters his perspective on life, love, and forgiveness. In 2019, we could all use a little of that.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood feels like a gift, one that everyone could use right about now. Marielle Heller devotes so much to illustrating the good that humanity can find and provide to one another, and she does it with direction that rivals anything done this year. Tom Hanks is getting more praise that he has in the last decade or so of performances, yet it still doesn’t feel like enough for just how magical the performance is. The whole film leaves you with this warm, comforting feeling, and longing for more beautiful days in the neighborhood.

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