A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood is loosely based on the 1998 profile “Can You Say… Hero?” about the legendary children’s television presenter Mister Rodgers. The article was written by journalist Tom Junod for Esquire magazine, and the film follows a somewhat fictional version of his character, renamed Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys). Lloyd is begrudgingly tasked with profiling the children’s entertainer and the film displays how his profiling of Mister Rodgers (Tom Hanks) led to him making big changes, especially regarding his outlook on life and his family.
This relationship is used to tell the audience of Mister Rodgers teachings: to not avoid tough feelings; talking about difficult things and doing so with love, compassion and forgiveness. In this way, he is often talking to the viewer and engaging them by requiring their active emotional response. Director Marielle Heller uses this to ensure the evoking of emotion to what is otherwise a very relaxed and slow-paced film. This is aided by Hanks’ soft-spoken, kind and calm portrayal. He’s kind and patient and forgiving and everything that Lloyd is not, and this unlikely friendship allows a warmth and genuine heart to a genre of film – biopics – that can sometimes feel cold and distanced from viewers.
The pacing of the film only increases as Lloyd’s emotion intensifies, accompanied by the swelling score that moves as smoothly as Hanks’ words do. The score, composed by Heller’s brother, allows what essentially feels like a climax of action in the film, as the rest of it is so gentle in its approach. However, while the gentleness of A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood could easily be criticised – as it is so different to the attention-grabbing, intense cinematic experiences viewers are used to – it creates a unique, feel-good tone that is often in film traded out for drama.
Structurally, the story is told through the TV show Mister Rodger’s Neighbourhood, allowing further intimacy of emotion as Hanks talks directly into the camera lens. This also allows for different stylistic choices; the toy village on the set of the show is used in between scenes to display the movement of characters from place to place and the passing of time. While seeming novel and almost childlike, to begin with, this quickly emerges to be the point. Heller wants the viewer to retreat back to childhood so Mister Rodgers’ words can prove more powerful.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood addresses how Mister Rodgers’ wisdom and compassion is as important now as ever and does so with a great deal of love and intimacy.
Image: Movie DB
Rachel Yates is a Screen Contributor.
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