Tom Hanks is a national treasure. It’s a good thing he survived Covid-19 because as difficult as 2020 was, it would have been that much more tragic on our collective psyche if the Hollywood icon hadn’t pulled through. We’re used to Hanks overcoming. As the veritable every man, he’s played a great number of survival roles. His latest outing sees him playing one of his most gentle and cerebral characters yet. As beloved children’s show presenter, Fred Rogers, he embodies another American icon who raised kids from many households with his old school and delightful approach to edutainment.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood is directed by Marielle Heller and based on the true story of the unlikely real-life friendship between Fred Rogers and journalist Lloyd Vogel. Having developed a notoriety when it comes to profiling people, the journalist was forced to accept a gig interviewing Rogers, the only personality that’d have him. While inspired by a true story and centred on the cynical magazine journalist’s emotional journey, the film is framed from the perspective of the much-loved daytime show presenter played by Hanks. In something akin to a Charlie Kaufman film, A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood is surreal, unpredictable and timely.
Entertainment has tended towards the shade in recent years, exploring more adult themes, inner torment and the darkness within the human heart. While we’re experiencing a golden age for television, there’s not much in the way of pure escapism or lighthearted fare. That’s what makes it so refreshing to watch a film of this nature as a cynical and idealistic man encounter and influence each other. It’s not a head in the clouds affair, opting to appreciate the power of listening, being coolheaded and wise in spite of living within a society driven to extremes.
“Well, Lloyd… what would you like to chat about today?”
Hanks is always dependable and rises to the occasion, doing so again in this deeply humane, affecting and gentle performance. He plays opposite Matthew Rhys, who is a more defiant and darker version of Zach Braff in his struggle to forgive his father and find peace. The cast is rounded off with another strong supporting performance from Chris Cooper. Easily recognisable, Cooper is a chameleon of an actor, immersing himself in the role of a deadbeat dad with many regrets.
Rogers isn’t a spiritual guru but there are times when the interview dynamic makes you feel like you’re watching 10 Questions for the Dalai Lama. Grappling with inner turmoil, unresolved emotion and pent up rage… Hanks brings a comforting familiarity to his character. The line between reality and fantasy blurs on occasion but the emotional undercurrent remains compelling with some surprisingly intimate moments playing out. Calm and serene, the turmoil of the journalist’s difficult past is forced into a more peaceful place when he’s around the cool and healing body of water that is Rogers.
The eclectic and dreamy drama also makes use of some quaint Wes Anderson style cityscapes, which play into the children’s show dynamic. Delicate writing, mesmerising storytelling and fine performances make for a compelling and deeply moving coming-of-age drama. Wonderfully human, effortlessly captivating, soulful and full of hope it’s a refreshing and touching drama. Watch A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood for Hanks’s meek yet brilliant performance, the Kaufmanesque daydreaming and a powerful message that is so pertinent in today’s broken world.
The bottom line: Inspiring