Arts

Oscar-winner Tom Hanks 'mercurial' as Mr Rogers in A Beautiful Day in The Neighborhood

Cynical journalist (Matthew Rhys) is profoundly affected by an interview with children's TV host Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks) in A Beautiful Day in The Neighborhood. Damon Smith reviews...

Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers in A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood.
Damon Smith

IT'S a beautiful day for everyone thanks to director Marielle Heller and her heartfelt love letter to self-acceptance, inspired by Tom Junod's magazine article Can You Say... Hero?

A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood dramatises the meeting of an emotionally bruised journalist and softly-spoken children's TV host Fred Rogers, who preached understanding and compassion for more than 30 years on his half-hour educational series Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.

Regular forays into the Neighborhood of Make-Believe in the company of hand puppets allowed Rogers to directly address his audience and shepherd pre-schoolers through tricky rites of passage.

Scriptwriters Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster bookmark the cynical reporter's journey of self-discovery with miniature models of New York and Pittsburgh that perfectly reflect the opening sequence of Rogers' show and the playful, simple and childlike qualities of the host.

Two-times Oscar winner Tom Hanks is mercurial as Rogers, perfectly capturing his melodic vocal delivery and boundless bonhomie, which continues when cameras stop rolling.

Matthew Rhys is a pleasing counterpoint as the embittered writer, who wrongly considers himself broken.

Together, they make the dialogue sing and guide us unscathed through potentially saccharine and sappy moments of renewal and redemption.

Investigative reporter Lloyd Vogel (Rhys) accepts a feature-writing prize at the black-tie National Magazine Awards with a speech about socially responsible journalism.

"Sometimes, we get to change a broken world with our words," he tells his peers.

Soon afterwards, long-time editor Ellen (Christine Lahti) commissions him to write an article on beloved children's host Fred Rogers (Hanks) for a forthcoming issue on inspirational people.

"He was the only person on our list willing to be interviewed by you," she explains. "400 words. Play nice."

Lloyd's wife Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson), who gave birth to their son Gavin four months ago, is painfully aware of her husband's reputation.

"Oh god, Lloyd. Please don't ruin my childhood," she pleads.

Wearing his trademark cynicism as a badge of honour, Lloyd sits down to interview Fred, tossing out benign questions ("Are you a vegetarian?") in the hope of eliciting an interesting response ("I just can't imagine eating anything with a mother.")

Fred's benevolent facade refuses to crack and, as Lloyd spends more time with his subject, the writer is compelled to address deep fissures in the relationship with his father (Chris Cooper).

A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood is an impeccably acted testament to the enduring power of the human spirit, which embraces us like a warm hug.

Heller's faith in her actors is richly rewarded as she meticulously recreates TV studio sets that became a place of comfort to generations of American children.

By the time Fred launches into his closing theme song, It's Such A Good Feeling, we're in rhapsodic agreement.

Rating: 8/10

A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD (PG, 109 mins) Drama/Romance. Matthew Rhys, Tom Hanks, Susan Kelechi Watson, Chris Cooper, Christine Lahti. Director: Marielle Heller.

Released: January 31

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