Following up on the success of 2018 film ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?’, Marielle Heller’s new project is also a loose adaptation of real events. ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’ is inspired by the true relationship between reporter Tom Junod and children’s host Mr Rogers. In Heller’s version, the reporter has been re-written into Lloyd Vogel, but Fred Rogers remains for the most part the real deal.
I went into A Beautiful Day somewhat hopeful. I know only fleeting things about The Mr Rogers Show, due to the success of last year’s documentary (currently available on Netflix UK and sitting in my watch list), but everything I have heard is that he was a positive and caring person. I was also a huge fan of Heller’s previous film, and a fan of both Matthew Rhys and Tom Hanks. It’s with great joy that I can confirm A Beautiful Day is indeed beautiful. You can almost see the tiny, delicate touches of care and love that have been placed all over the film, the film’s crew clearly cared deeply about this man and this show. But it is not Mr Roger’s film. The films protagonist, and at times antagonist is Lloyd. He’s a jaded reporter, a new father, a disgruntled New Yorker and his estranged father has just reappeared in his life. When he’s given the assignment of profiling Mr Rogers, he’s immediately combative. He doesn’t do puff pieces, and Mr Rogers is puff personified.
There are so many wonderful things about the film, but the three elements that deserve the most praise are the set design and the two lead actors. Unfortunately snubbed for the most part at the awards season, Tom Hanks has received a well-deserved best supporting actor nomination. Watching Hanks as Mr Rogers is like a calming sedative. The use of silence, of stillness, of eye contact throughout Hanks’ performance shows the mark of a brilliant actor-director relationship, and Heller has clearly not been afraid to go with her gut and break normal conventions when it comes to this character and his role within her film. As mentioned in our Marielle Heller LFF Q&A, Hanks signed up to the film due to Heller’s involvement, and their relationship is clearly strong. Rhys equally matches up to Hanks performance, holding the film together in almost every scene and being the everyman for the viewer. I was able to see so much of my own cynicism, hurt and deflection in Rhys’ portrayal of Lloyd. He brings a real human presence to this flawed, complex character. It is very much Lloyd’s film, and it is for this reason I feel the film has been somewhat overlooked, as many audiences went in looking for a Mr Rogers film. But as in life, Mr Rogers is ever present, but in the background, helping to guide Lloyd, and us as viewers, to reflect inward on our relationships and compassion.
The set design is the other significant touchstone in the film. The story opens on an episode of Mr Rogers, and the set designers have lovingly recreated every element of the show. Not just this, but the use of the model towns and trains within Mr Rogers studio are then used to transition in and out of the story and in to everyday reality with a whimsy that makes you feel immediately enchanted. The time period, the props and the sets are all lovingly crafted and it should be no surprise that members of the real Mr Rogers show were blown away when they visited the set.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood might not be the most exciting, daring or mind-blowing film that you will see this year. But the film is the most caring, the most compassionate and the most personal film you will see. Watching this film feels like being wrapped up in a blanket and drinking a hot chocolate. Go and see this film with an open heart and mind, and you’ll be just as entranced with Heller’s quiet film as I was.