A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood – London Film Festival 2019 – Film Review
The positivity radiating through this film starts with its title and indeed as I was waiting in the queue for the press screening of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood this was all of the information that I had in advance. That is aside from the fact that A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood was directed by Marielle Heller, which, if anything, is a good selling point. Following on from Can You Ever Forgive Me? Heller’s direction changes tack and effectively does a 360 degree turn in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood to create what must be on the list as being one of the most heartfelt films for 2019. I had hoped that A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood would have received a UK release around the Christmas period to share its message of hope.
However, it should be clarified that A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is not a wholly sentimental film but a Christmas release might have ensured that it would appeal more to UK audiences, who may not be cognisant of the protagonist, Mr Rogers and his tv show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. I was certainly one of those unfamiliar with his show but a recent documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, about his life may now assist to garner more interest in the film within the UK.
Tom Hanks, is perfectly cast as the irrepressible Mr Rogers who effectively sees the good in everyone and tries ‘to give children positive ways to deal with their feelings’. Hanks is charm personified as Fred Rogers which has been recognised by his Best Actor nomination for the 2020 Oscars. Under another director this film may have been overtly sentimental but Heller’s direction ensures that the balance in tone is pitched just right. Mr Rogers almost seems prophetic and there are religious qualities imbued upon him as he visits the long-term ill in their final moments on their sick beds. Even during such moments, the message of hope pervades, and Mr Rogers continues to wear that red cardigan on his tv show and to tie his shoe-laces in the same manner at the start of each show. If you regard the footage from the actual children’s show hosted by Mr Rogers you cannot fail to be impressed by Tom Hanks’ ability to mirror his characteristics perfectly.
On an initial glance, A Beautiful Day in the Neigborhood may appear to depict that superficial but relentless cheeriness associated with children’s presenters but as this story is based on the article, ‘Can You Say … Hero?’ it does not dwell on Mr Rogers’ backstory although he is asked on an occasion as to whether he has any downtime. Predictably, the answer is a resounding ‘no’ and for the majority of the film’s running time this positive persona is projected as he sings with others and is revered by those surrounding him. One particularly striking example is during the scene of Mr Rogers out dining with Lloyd whereby he is recognised by all of the diners in a very poignant scene, bring some tissues, which illustrated the impact that Mr Rogers had on many. Another scene in the carriage of a subway train unveils that he was loved by all ages as he was recognised by a group of school children and you cannot help but smile at their unexpected reaction to him.
I mentioned the character Lloyd and the film with its mise-en-abîme structure references him quite early during the filming of an episode of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Lloyd Vogel is described as a friend by Mr Rogers to the young audience for his show. Matthew Rhys delivers an impressive turn as Lloyd, as the antithesis to Mr Rogers, who, from his appearance in a photo on the tv show, may easily be judged as being quick-tempered and prone to fighting. Lloyd, however, represents that questioning voice that you may have too in watching the antics of Mr Rogers who perhaps seems too wholesome to be true but there is something undeniably magical in effect within the interactions between Lloyd and Mr Rogers.
Lloyd may be representative of that prodigal son or even that errant sheep that has wandered away from the flock and its shepherd who provides that guiding light. Perhaps we all need to receive that unwavering level of support from a character such as Mr Rogers when times get bleak? As such, there are moments in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood to which we could all relate and this is impressively developed with stunning long angle shots of Lloyd in long corridors with fire escapes where he attempts to re-build distant family connections. There is that build up of a sense of isolation and desperation despite being part of a family unit by the use of such distancing but the camera angles ramp up the emotional moments with close ups on Lloyd often.
However, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood deliberately reminds us that we are immersed within the tv show, and are not merely distant observers, through the use of model figures and model towns before transporting us to the real life situation; such technique therefore continues to inject that magical quality within the film, plus there are also some beautiful shots of silhouettes which heighten that sensation of magic. The score within A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood amplifies this sensation of magic further and you may find yourself reminiscing of childhood moments and some of the adult characters are similarly eager to indulge in such an escape from reality warning Lloyd ‘not to ruin their childhoods’ during his investigative report on Mr Rogers.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, also touches upon the nurturing of children and whether instinctively we are doomed to repeat the negative cycle of behaviours that we might have learned as a child. Mr Rogers states that ‘as a parent you have a new chance to grow’ and so it is refreshing to see the notion of a father being actively involved in the parenting of a new baby being explored so sensitively without resorting to stereotypes. In this manner A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood provides that social commentary on the progressive attitudes towards childcare with that juxtaposition of the views of an older generation expressed by Lloyd’s father and the modern views expressed by Lloyd. Even Mr Rogers had alluded to taking a break from his tv show once he had children in one of the few glimpses provided of his private life.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood skilfully manages to deliver some comedic and poignant elements which permits it to deviate from being a simple tale of redemption. This is assisted by Matthew Rhys’ convincing portrayal as the troubled Lloyd which is just as magnetic as Tom Hanks’ performance. The dynamic between the two characters is extremely heartwarming to witness through its transformation over the course of the film.
Quite simply, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a joy to watch from start to finish with its delightful and tear-jerking scenes and its intoxicating colour palette. The film will envelop and hypnotise you with its feel-good aura and will sprinkle some of Mr Rogers’ magic whilst you watch as we could probably all appreciate having a Fred Rogers type of person in our lives from time to time. By the end of the film, I couldn’t resist humming the jolly, infectious theme tune to the tv show and A Beautiful Day in the Neigborhood may equally impact you with its message of positivity.