What is the impact that one person can have on another?
How is that one life can intensely, irreversibly be altered by coming into contact with someone?
It’s a common theme in modern cinema, but rarely told as simply and unapologetically in a PG-rated film as director Marielle Heller’s latest film.
“A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood” is not a biopic. It’s a wonderfully layered drama about meeting the person you need in your life at exactly the moment you need to meet them.
Inspired by the friendship between celebrated children’s TV show host Fred Rogers and journalist Tom Junod, the movie follows cynical Esquire Magazine feature writer Lloyd Vogel as an assignment to profile Mr. Rogers affects his relationships with his wife as well as his estranged father.
Two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks is not the star of the film and the version of Fred Rogers audiences see on screen isn’t intended to be the same man chronicled in last year’s outstanding documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor.”
Casting Hanks as Rogers is a stroke of genius because, on a surface level, the iconic actor known for playing roles of virtue lends instant credibility to Rogers’ genuine warmth and spirit.
But in the subtext, as viewers question Hanks in the role because he isn’t a perfect mirror image of Rogers, the film’s protagonist – Matthew Rhys’ Vogel – maintains doubts about his authenticity in a way that subtly attaches audiences to Vogel.
No actor can truly match the singular persona of Fred Rogers, but viewed through the lens of a skeptical journalist, Hanks delivers a more than compelling facsimile that feels pulled from Vogel’s imagination and recollections of the past.
Rhys pushes the envelope just enough as Vogel to make the film’s dramatic moments compelling, but not so far as to intercede in the moments where it’s clear viewers are meant to just bask in Hanks easily charming audiences with Rogers’ message of kindness at every turn.
It’s a performance that doesn’t particularly stand out in any way, but Rhys offers enough character development to pay off the film’s overall conceit.
Veteran character actor Chris Cooper gets the most screen time he’s seen in several years and stuns audiences with a heart wrenching supporting turn as Vogel’s father Jerry.
Cooper brings a presence to the screen that challenges Rhys at every turn and forces better performances than the screenplay sets up.
Heller frames her film as if it were an extended episode of “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood,” weaving in and out of the main story with to-camera interludes by Hanks that treat the audience like Rogers’ young viewers and location changing transitions featuring miniature sets like those from the television program.
Considerable detail went into the film’s production design to get the nuance of the era correct from costumes to virtually identical sets for “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” to the faded texture that permeates across Jody Lee Lipes’ cinematography.
“Neighborhood” deserves far wider accolades than it will likely get, although Hanks is all but assured an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor and co-frontrunner status with Brad Pitt in “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.”
The film has an outside chance at a Best Picture nomination though Heller as director and Rhys as lead actor will likely miss the cut.
A much more somber film than any true biopic of Fred Rogers probably deserves, the beauty of “Neighborhood” comes from the essence of the man and his impact on those around him rather than his life story.
No filmmaker will be able to do complete justice to Rogers’ tale better than the 2018 documentary and Heller, Hanks and company opt not to even try.
Compelling and emotional, “A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood” is a worthy drama that focuses on impact over legacy in a tale of fathers and sons that will tug at the heartstrings of audiences willing to let their hearts take over for their brains over a two hour period.