A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (4 stars)

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood

TIFF 2019: Tom Hanks steps winningly into the shoes of childhood favourite Mr Rogers

Experience has taught us to be wary of public figures who seem too good to be true. In A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood, Esquire journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys, playing a character based on writer Tom Junod) is assigned to interview beloved television host Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks). Little known in Britain, Mr Rogers was considered a saintly father figure to generations of American children. They drew comfort from a show that found imaginative ways to help them negotiate the churning emotions of growing up.

Vogel arrives armed with cynicism and finds himself charmed and disarmed by a more complex man than he had imagined. The film performs a similar feat on audiences expecting a treacly sweet tearjerker.

In many respects this is more about Vogel than Rogers. A prize-winning journalist and new father, Vogel is burdened by anger and resentment towards his own feckless, drunken father Jerry (Chris Cooper). Rogers' influence on Vogel reflects the impact he made on American children. His folksy wisdom and innate decency have the power to heal and the film is close to a Good Will Hunting-style therapy session.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? director Marielle Heller constantly works against the grain of the film's sentimentality. Her boldest choices include making much of the drama feel like an episode of Mister Rogers' Neighbourhood and adopting Charlie Kaufman-style models to represent a New York skyline, the twinkling city lights and the coming and going of airplanes.

She also has two rock-solid performances at the core of the film, with Rhys conveying a sense of bitter, curdled anger that might cost him all he holds dear. Hanks is masterful as he captures the measured cadences of Rogers' speech pattern and his cosy cardigan manner, but he also lets us see the deeper levels of someone who works hard to be a force for good and knows just how much effort that requires.

Screening as part of the Toronto International Film Festival 2019. General release from Fri 6 Dec.

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