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A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBOURHOOD gets 5/10 In the neighbourhood of mediocrity


Directed by Marielle Heller

Starring Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Chris Cooper

5/10

Despite all the friendly and flawless characteristics of Mister Rogers, this film feels like it really has to stretch itself trying to apply his life story (or at least a part of it) to a narrative feature film. Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks) is not even the star here, instead it’s Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), a journalist tasked with writing a small piece on this beloved children’s show star. The mopey Lloyd becomes Rogers’ mission – to cure him with his easy-going philosophies of positive human connectivity and neighbourliness.

Despite becoming a dad for the first time, Lloyd is clearly having family issues. He gets into a fight at his sister’s wedding because his forgiveness-asking father has becomes sick, but Lloyd shows no remorse or sympathy for this estranged man who left his mother when he was young. But then, as Lloyd interviews and researches Rogers, he is taught the virtues of kindness and forgiveness by this kid’s show television personality – gee, wonder what’s going to happen!

Lloyd feels like a poor attempt to bring in some much-needed drama for Rogers to help solve, in the way he would on his TV show. This is based on the eventual article, “Can You Say … Hero?” written by Lloyd (or, by his actual name, Tom Junod), but his character is just a bland slate that you can see engineering his obvious development and growth.

Hanks is delightful and charming as Rogers, so it’s a delightful charm to watch him in this role. But there’s also a distance between him and, well, what an actual human is like. He plays Rogers so bizarrely aloof, that he seems more like an alien. The film renders this man in such a simplistic way that it reduces him to only a few emotions, where any hint of darkness at all is only glimpsed at in his very last scene.

The story and character growth here is tawdry, with the best, most revealing, and easily the most entertaining moments the ones showing the filming of Rogers at his own show (along with a dream/nightmare sequence of Lloyd as a puppet in the show, and the cute establishing shots that are all done with miniatures). Perhaps the 2018 documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbour? was enough to portray this man and his values, with this not-quite-biopic adding little to how we feel and appreciate about a beloved American icon.

DAVID MORGAN-BROWN

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