A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood, Cineworld Cinemas, (PG), (109 mins)
A Beautiful Day indeed – and a beautiful, extraordinary film. A film which genuinely pulls off something quite remarkable. How on earth can a film which is essentially about kindness, gentleness and understanding be quite so wonderfully watchable?
The film portrays the real-life friendship between US TV children’s host Fred Rogers and jaded journalist Lloyd Vogel (in real life Tom Juno), and you feel, as Brits, we are instantly at a massive disadvantage. After all, you’d struggle to find a single one of us who has ever heard of Fred Rogers, let alone has the least idea just what he represents to millions and millions of Americans. But maybe that’s where the genius of Tom Hanks comes in – helped by a beautiful performance by Matthew Rhys as the hardened, embittered, closed-off cynical hack on whom Fred works his magic.
There’s the finest of lines in this film, the one Hanks walks with a character whose sheer wholesomeness could very, very easily start to seem distinctly unwholesome. In fact, if he were one of our own childhood TV heroes from the 1970s, we’d be expecting any day for all sorts of improprieties to be exposed – and we’d be nodding knowingly when they were.
Maybe just once or twice, we wince at Fred Rogers’ all-encompassing niceness; but Hanks makes him come alive as the home-spun TV evangelist of decency, hinting at the personal cost behind it all. There is effort behind it, and in a way that effort adds to the sincerity.
It’s a winning performance in every way, and exactly what deeply damaged Lloyd Vogel needs, a man who watched his father abandon his dying mother and now finds himself curiously detached from his own child.
And that’s the moment Lloyd is sent by his magazine to interview Rogers, supposedly for a 400-word profile. Lloyd sneers and is then seduced; he resents the questions that Rogers turns on his supposed interviewer, but then can’t help but answer them.
Rogers shows the power of niceness, and a big part of that power is its sheer contagiousness. It was remarkable the way everyone was dashing to hold the door open for everyone else as we left the cinema. People who’d never heard of Mr Rogers were falling under his spell...