Movie reviews by
3 (out of 4)
Last year Won’t You Be My Neighbor? was touted less as an exceptionally enlightening documentary and more simply because anything venerating Fred Rogers is by extension worth celebrating. Such is the case with the third film by Marielle Heller – A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is securely anchored and basically blessed by the graceful hand of Tom Hanks but more actually safeguarded by the very spirit of Rogers alone.
But Heller's flair is for knotty personality profiles and with A Beautiful Day she sustains a spotless, steady career. The director has become a biopic specialist since her first, fussiest and most uncomfortably realistic film – and the only one she’s also written the screenplay for – the adaptation of quasi-graphic novel The Diary of a Teenage Girl. Last year’s Can You Ever Forgive Me? could convert anyone into a believer in Melissa McCarthy whilst illustrating a psyche I’m sure no other filmmaker could've drawn clearer. The messy verisimilitude of those two dark-comic films distinguishes just how few rough edges outline A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.
The unsympathetic elements are there in a logical attempt at emotional revelation, an obvious contrast to draw next to Roger's unwavering earnestness for the necessary melodramatic backdrop. The Esquire article from which the movie is inspired tries to place you in the writer/cynic (same thing) Tom Junod's disposition – Matthew Rhys stars as the "Can You Say ... Hero?" article scribe, reasonably detailing the mindset of the curmudgeon. As Rogers, Hanks plays a supporting figure who is less a foil than a headshrink (yes I realize Rogers was an ordained minister) so that Heller's propensity to depict discomfort can be applied to the genuine yet exasperating process of watching Rogers transform journalism into therapy.
But nearly everyone who walks into the Mr. Rogers movie doesn’t need an intervention. Only a few scenes deserve the easy tears they so smoothly extract, often at the assistance of Hanks’ portrayal which takes a mere 90 seconds to get used to. The grains of wisdom and inquiries into solemn truths take a collectively heavy toll as Heller cranks the waterworks nearly as high as the documentary did. But, as I said in that review, with no dirt to dig up Rogers' life's work exists as it always has, making me question whether this Oscar-attractor circa 2019 is worth more than a bit of binging Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood cannot get around the fact that the tenderhearted television icon’s mentality has only so much to offer other than a moral, civic ideal to aim for admire – and of course the film takes time to assert that Rogers needs no deification and we shouldn't place his piousness on a pedestal apart from the status quo.
Hanks has his first Supporting Actor nomination in the bag after two famous consecutive Best Actor wins for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump plus three more nominations in the same category. This latest biographical portrait amounts to the sixth real life figure modeled in six years – Fred Rogers follows the titular Captain Phillips, Walt Disney in Saving Mr. Banks, two Spielberg projects including James B. Donovan in Bridge of Spies and Ben Bradlee in The Post as well as Sully in the only decent recent Clint Eastwood movie of the same name. Great acting is about being as good at playing yourself as you are at emulating a chameleon and Hanks is suited for this role like he's been for so many before. This performance is just below some of his deepest, most distinguished turns like Saving Private Ryan, Cast Away, Big and Phillips.
Heller’s film has a compelling ethical compass but it is just not as gutsy or provoking as her earlier explorations. This is no slump since she’s willing to touch on an unregistered maturity at the heart of even the most innocent of circumstances just like the cardigan-toting shepherd himself. Just because Heller’s playing it safer doesn’t mean she isn’t doing it well.
To keep it brief...
Soon to Come:
The Invisible Man
and overdue takes on
"So what've you been up to?"
"Escaping mostly... and I escape real good."
- Inherent Vice