A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood 2019 ****

For once, comparisons are useless; no one outside the US has ever heard of Fred Rogers, and even a popular documentary didn’t change much about that. Children’s tv presenters of the past are remembered with great passion and enthusiasm, but the medium of nursery rhymes and bedtime stories is not a subject that’s troubled the cinematic world much until recently. Those left cold with the idea of bringing Mr Rogers back to life may feel more enthusiasm for another outing from Tom Hanks, the James Stewart of his generation, a loved, respected and treasured star. Hanks has twice as much screen-time here as Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs, which won him a best actor Oscar; it probably seemed like a good steer to nominated Hanks as supporting actor here, although that category seems locked for Brad Pitt at the time of writing.

Nevertheless, this is a supporting performance, and a good one; those who don’t recognise the style of Mr Rogers may, in fact, find it easier to get into Hanks here. Marielle Heller’s slight yet profound drama is about a journalist, Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) who is struggling with his own family life, and specifically with his father (Chris Cooper). A chance to write a profile piece on Rogers develops into a tentative friendship, but Vogel doesn’t find is easy to heed the star’s advice until tragedy appears on the horizon.

A Beautiful Day In the Neighbourhood is a film in a minor key; the evocations of childhood are warm and fuzzy, the interaction between Vogel’s problematic life and Rogers’ homespun philosophy runs smoothly; there’s a stand-out moment when Vogel is requested to enjoy a moment of silence in a busy restaurant. In fact, given the happiest of centres featured here in terms of Hanks, it’s perhaps frustrating that A Beautiful Day doesn’t go any deeper into Vogel’s issues.

Oscar, BAFTA and Golden Globe-voters alike have indicated that films directed by women can only be recognised for their performances, with the cast presumably directing themselves. So Hanks is the only name from the production to feature on ballot-papers; a ridiculous state of affairs given the need to recognise on an equal plateau the best work by all sexes, creeds and colours. One wonders what the main character would have said about this kind of failure; half holy-fool, half Jedi-mentor, Rogers is an amusing character who glues this gentle, controlled drama tightly to a heartfelt, feel-good task.



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