TIFF 2019: A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood
A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood isn't the textbook biopic of American kids' TV star Mr Rogers that its trailer suggests, but it does lack the vigour of director Marielle Heller's earlier films
Marielle Heller is an assured filmmaker, with a conviction in her style that keeps potentially schmaltzy content from being overly saccharine. But where her last feature Can You Ever Forgive Me? sparkled with both warmth and bite, A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood settles into a more generic rhythm.
Matthew Rhys impresses as Lloyd Vogel, a fictionalisation of real-life journalist Tom Junod who wrote a profile of the American children’s entertainer Fred Rogers (played here by the ever-charming Tom Hanks) for the cover of Esquire magazine in 1998. Rogers’ television show, Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood, was an educational program aimed at helping children tackle some of life’s big issues; “death, divorce, war” notes Vogel during one interview session. “Heavy stuff.”
It’s the “heavy stuff” of Vogel's own life, however, that he finds himself beginning to address through over-exposure to the saintly Rogers – as Vogel’s wife Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson) notes while reading her husband’s finished article, “it’s not really about Mr Rogers”. A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood closes in on Lloyd’s demons far more than it explores the inner workings of the famed children’s television host.
This approach works for the most part – it keeps the magic of Mr Rogers alive for those that loved him by not revealing too much – but it also feels unsustainable. The more Lloyd probes Rogers during his interviews, about his own life, his personal burdens, the more apparent it becomes that it would be a lot more interesting to actually learn the answers.
Still, this is a sweet story presented in a fundamentally nice film that is well-structured and confidently executed. Heller's film is not necessarily the textbook biopic that the trailer might suggest it to be, but it still lacks a lasting vigour to elevate it beyond something we might have seen before.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood had its world premiere at Toronto International Film Festival and is released in the UK 6 Dec by Sony Pictures