by Ian Morton
He may not be the most well known figure to audiences in the UK, but A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood does a remarkable job at giving us a glimpse into the soul of American TV legend, Fred Rogers, with a story that does so much more than document one man’s life.
Angry and disheartened with the world around him, the plot follows the morose investigative journalist Lloyd Vogel during a brief encounter with the beloved kids entertainer. Initially pushing back at the unexpected assignment, Vogel eventually gives in to his bosses demands, in the hope that there may be some hidden secrets buried underneath Rogers sweet exterior.
Following on from the success of last year’s, ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?’, director Marielle Heller averts expectation by repackaging your standard biopic into heartwarming drama. Delicately shot, the film places the audience into a cocoon of childlike comfort while more and more of the tragic events surrounding Vogel’s life unfold. Whether playfully recreating the cityscape transitions with toys or describing the indescribable with puppets, Heller brings to life the world Rogers created for his audience and makes you feel like you’re watching him connect once more to someone in need.
Hanks proves to be the perfect vehicle for Rogers. The film opens like the beginning of a children’s TV show, with Hanks front and center, setting our story up with the same gentle tone the actor is known for. While at first it just feels like a well studied piece of mimicry, the performance evolves as the story gets ever deeper, giving the opportunity for Hanks to sink his teeth into the role. A particularly poignant scene comes when Rogers and Vogel are sharing a meal at a diner in which there is a moment of silence. Many actors would find this time awkward but for Hanks, it plays to his strengths of subtlety, using the passing seconds to connect with the audience, putting you in the place of those on screen.
What truly is quite remarkable is the films ability to latch to you from the opening production titles and not let you go until well after the credits roll.The framing of each character is hypnotic, holding you with every gaze and easing you into the shoes of the protagonist. It’s all there to take you on a journey, and it does so by getting under your skin and giving you something to ponder on that long journey home.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is out January 31st!
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