There are two moments in Marielle Heller’s aptly named ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’ that were truly unforgettable to me. The kind of moments that get you immediately and stick with you long after the lights of projector have faded. Neither of these moments involve some brilliantly constructed dialogue or some exceptional piece of editing. It is the human aspect of these moments and the context they give to the character of Fred Rogers. It is also their placement in the confines of the overarching narrative that gives them such emotional depth.
The first of these sequences is actually in the trailer for the film. If you have seen it, you will know what I’m referring to. It’s the scene that ends the trailer. The one where a Subway car of people sing his title track to him. When you watch this scene in a trailer, it’s a smile inducing exercise. When you see it at this particular moment in the film, it is tear inducing. This is because it evokes the power of positive influence and how one jingle can unite strangers. Which is so powerful in the moment that it’s captured in the film.
The other scene is even more simple. Mr. Rogers (Tom Hanks) sits with journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) in a coffee shop and asks for a minute of silence. He asks for Lloyd to imagine every person who helped shape the person he has become today. The context of the film provides a weight to this scene, but I personally did not think about the movie in this moment. I looked to my left. Then, to my right. And I noticed the audience was closing their eyes. So, I stopped thinking about the film and listened to what Mr. Rogers has told me to do. I imagined all the people, alive and past, that had shaped me. It was a stirring moment of self reflection and a moment of interactive filmmaking I’ve seldom experienced.
Which is why my hat is off to all involved in this film. The story is a fairly simple one about a cynical man warming his heart after being touched by a saint. But, the terrific performances and nuanced dialogue make that narrative feel lived in. The catharsis that comes from the journey feels earned. We don’t know how much of this is true, and the article that Tom Junod wrote doesn’t really illuminate the specifics of this film, but we do feel that it’s real. The film makes you respect the difficulty of kindness and the beauty of it. It projects how important listening and asking the right questions can truly be. And it does all this with a light pace and a few visual flares along the way.
In the end, this is not a biopic about Fred Rogers. It’s a story about a journalist who learns about forgiveness from Fred Rogers. Tom Hanks is not really the lead here, but you feel the essence of what Rogers did for the world in droves. Every time he hits the screen you can feel the performance. You don’t just watch Hanks masterfully recreate a man. You watch him embody the feelings that Rogers was able to share with all who watched his show or listened to his impassioned speeches. This makes for a great experience and one of the better films of 2019.