MOVIE REVIEW: Tom Hanks perfect for movie about TV’s Mr Good

A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBOURHOOD

 

FOUR STARS

 

Director: Marielle Heller

Starring: Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Chris Cooper

Rating: PG

Running time: 107 minutes

Verdict: Kindness is Hanks' superpower

 

Who would have thought a daggy kids show host could teach his audience so much about the human condition?

Certainly not hard-nosed investigative journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), who takes his editor's request for a 400-word puff piece about national living treasure Fred Rogers as a personal affront.

Kind, endlessly patient and generous to a fault, the veteran TV personality is simply too good to be true.

So instead of fulfilling his simple brief to profile a "hero", Vogel sets out to rattle a few skeletons, even after his wife Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson) pleads with him not to ruin her childhood.

Tom Hanks plays Mister Rogers.
Tom Hanks plays Mister Rogers.

Vogel is determined to reveal the real Mister Rogers (Tom Hanks).

Screenwriters Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster play along, teasing movie goers with false leads - at one point, there's a suggestion that Rogers might have past anger-management issues, at another there's a whiff of drama involving one of his sons.

But Rogers' real secret is that he is just as virtuous as he appears - what you see is what you get.

The harder an exasperated Vogel works to "defrock" his subject, who was also a Presbyterian minister, the more he is changed in the process.

Trawling through past interviews and old TV shows, the journalist gains a new appreciation for Rogers, whose deliberate goodness is not an act but a philosophy, or as he describes it, "a choice".

One of Rogers' puppets, Daniel Striped Tiger, gives Vogel some helpful tips on dealing with uncomfortable emotions triggered by an encounter with his estranged father (Chris Cooper).

With A Beautiful Day In the Neighbourhood, which is based on Tom Junod's 1998 Esquire magazine article "Can You Say … Hero?", director Marielle Heller (The Diary Of a Teenage Girl, Can You Ever Forgive Me?) takes some big risks, beginning with the opening scene in which Hanks steps on to Rogers' recreated TV set to perform his title song while zipping himself into a woolly red cardigan.

Scene from the movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood starring Tom Hanks.
Scene from the movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood starring Tom Hanks.

But the two-time Oscar-winner, who is just as disciplined as the character he plays, gently disarms our natural scepticism in much the same manner as Rogers' steadfastness eventually wins Vogel over.

If Hanks, as many industry observers have suggested, is the new Jimmy Stewart, then this is his It's a Wonderful Life.

He couldn't have done it without Rhys's intelligent performance as an angry young man who wears his cynicism like a badge of honour.

Seldom has being a nice guy seemed like such an extraordinary accomplishment.

A tonic of a film.

 

* A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood previews at Moonlight Cinemas on January 17 and opens in cinemas on January 23


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