By Steve Vertlieb: I had the great pleasure of seeing Sony’s new release, A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood last evening. This sweet, lovely trailer both previews and promises faithfully that this new film, based upon an incident occupying the later years of Fred Rogers, will become the feel good movie of the year. Tom Hanks is, as ever, a magical presence on the screen. It is, indeed, A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood when spiritual goodness is shared, honored, and cherished by both film maker and audience.
However, this lyrical and wondrous motion picture is so much more than I could ever have imagined. It is loosely based upon the friendship between journalist Tom Junod and television’s most beloved children’s host, after a jaded, embittered magazine writer is assigned a purely “fluff” assignment to interview Public Television’s “Mr. Rogers” for Esquire Magazine.
Convinced that the character of “Mr. Rogers” is merely a scripted persona, the writer goes about his work with both cynicism and restrained contempt … until events in his own life force him to look inward toward the scarred, unhappy soul that he has, perhaps, unknowingly, become. Rogers, a former Presbyterian minister, gently pierces the bitter facade of his interviewer, subtly forcing the writer to believe in his own inherent goodness, and in the deceptively hidden beauty of the world and people around him.
Directed with deep sensitivity by Marielle Heller from a screenplay by Micah Fitzerman Blue and Noah Harpster, A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood features sweet, lovely performances by Matthew Rhys as the troubled journalist, Chris Cooper (in what’s sure to become an Oscar-nominated supporting performance as his troubled father), Susan Kelechi Watson as his wife and, of course, Tom Hanks in the role that he was, perhaps, born to play as Mister Rogers.
A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood is a tender, sweet parable about fathers and sons, and about the absolute power of goodness. Heller’s direction of the film plays with children’s perceptions of love and strength, while softly interweaving them with the sadness, distrust, and cynicism which often, sadly, replace the innocence of youth with the jaded wisdom of maturity. In these deeply divisive and conflicted times, we truly need this sweet story of faith, spiritual goodness, and the remarkable beauty and consequence of love and forgiveness. To that end, A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood is a both a revelation, and a miracle.