Marielle Heller introduces the teachings of Mr. Rogers in the world of adult problems. Therefore, “A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood” surprises and warms hearts without the need to squeeze the last juices of a by-the-rules biopic film.
A film based on a real story often falls victim of a certain temptation of reconstructing a series of events and characters involved in them without giving the viewers enough room to forge their own thoughts. Serving “one truth” instead of stirring a pot is just easier. But when viewers leave the screening room, they’re left without the urge to think more about the subject.
That’s what biopics suffer from in particular. Since they’re often driven by a maniacal craving of telling the truth, such stories often forget that true value lays in questioning the audience.
Marielle Heller refuses to go by-the-book. However, the female director starts in a way that felt like an omen of that exact approach. Seen in reduced screen 4:3 ratio, Tom Hanks blends into Mr. Rogers’ character, as he sings, mimics the exact same tone, the sensitivity and good-heartedness of Mr. Rogers. A deliberate and meticulous beginning, which leads to a question – is it going to be Tom Hanks show all the way?
Not only it’s not, but labelling “A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood” as that new Tom Hanks movie would be very hurtful for director Marielle Heller.
Though a tempting route to choose, Heller clings onto other character as the film’s emotional anchor: a washed-off, egocentric journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), who is forced to write a short magazine piece about Mr. Rogers. He’s an ardent hater of everything and everyone, a conflicted father and neglectful son.
In other words, he’s the exact reverse of Mr. Rogers.
In less skilful hands, the contrast between Rogers and Vogel would not dissolve, but rather grow in power, hence leading to a rigged combination of white and black, and of good and bad. Luckily, Heller treats this material carefully.
She moves Rogers to the background, and draws only when the script needs him to resurface. This narrative procedure helps to look at Rogers from the perspective of Vogel. Always happy and beloved, Hanks’ character’s almost too perfect for the pessimist journalist, whose life’s shattered by a fuck-up father and other family issues. Vogel whole-heartedly despises the slightest chance that Rogers is indeed impeccable, and seeks flaws in the man’s image. Eventually, the story turns into a psychological vivisection of Vogel, and how sadness causes more frustration and bitterness in the long-run perspective.
This growing conflict of Vogel is confidently handled by Matthew Rhys, who outshines Hanks. Although the veteran actor stars as if born in a red sweater, it’s Rhys who hides his character’s deeply-rooted anger under the facade of egocentric sensation-seeker. Hanks tells his own story too, built on a complex and likeable character. He’s perfectly cast, as the actor oozes the warmth of Mr. Rogers.
Although we do not see Hanks for the whole time, “A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood” is entirely dictated by Mr. Rogers’ kid program. Marielle Heller embraces the kinda creepy potential of old puppets and colourful cardboard sets, as well as the forever-smiling Rogers. At times, her narrative feels dream-ish, as if skipping the reality-rooted source material. There’s also the praiseworthy visual craft here at stake. The everyday colours used by cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes are all tints of brown, which symbolise an arid and lifeless surrounding of Vogel. This, in particular, builds a visual contrast with the world created by Mr. Rogers – his presence casts light, and cheers up these gloomy palettes.
What really cements “A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood” and its offbeat approach to standardisation of biopics, is its finale. There’s a natural end to the film’s plot, however Marielle Heller prolongs it just enough to close on a much more thought-provoking way. Heller whispers to her audience that nobody can be that perfect – and it’s up to us how we interpret it.
A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood (2019)
Dir. Marielle Heller
Hate Grade: 3/10
Overall evaluation: “A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood”, which could easily turn into one-man show for Tom Hanks, offers a lot more of thought-provoking layers and character study, where Mr. Rogers’ teachings find relevance in the world of the adults.