Film Review: A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood

Director Marielle Heller’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood is a reflective and at times touching drama. 

Writer Lloyd Vogel is assigned to complete a small profile on children’s television personality Fred Rogers for Esquire, a world away from his hard-hitting pieces. When he meets the beloved personality, Lloyd’s view slowly begins to shift…

It would be inaccurate to call A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood a Fred Rogers biopic. After all, he is not even the main character in the film. Rather Heller’s film, based on real events, focuses on the impact the beloved children’s personality had through the microcosm of a single person. 

Marielle Heller and screenwriters Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster juxtapose the cynical writer against the earnest children’s personality. At its heart, A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood is about a person too cynical to believe anyone could be that good, and a person too good to let a person be that cynical. As the friendship progresses, barriers are broken down. Heller deals with these in a meditative fashion. The film ambles rather than scurries to its conclusion. 

The bookend device of an episode of the show is a very smart move from Heller. This gives a neat introduction to Rogers and his show, particularly for younger or international viewers who may less familiar with the character. It also solidifies that the story which will be told has a moral, just like in the television show. 

The script is good; characters have time to develop in a natural manner. The film is really only concerned with Rogers and Vogel, with the supporting characters not having a life beyond the two protagonists. The film has some genuinely touching moments, although it is not always as engaging as it could be. There are some good moments though, such as when Vogel believes he is part of the show. 

Tom Hanks is reliable as ever as Fred Rogers. He delivers his lines with such sincerity, it is hard not to be charmed. Matthew Rhys is also great as Lloyd Vogel. Chris Cooper stands out in a supporting role. Heller creates a sense of intimacy with her protagonists that suits the tone very well. 

Although the film lacks the pizazz of Heller’s previous feature Can You Ever Forgive Me?, A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood promotes the type of kindness and sincerely that is sorely needed right now. 

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2019. 

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