Marielle Heller‘s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Sony, 11.22) is all about the art and impulse (and to some extent the discipline) of being gentle and kind, however and whenever possible and even when it’s not. There’s no resisting the caressing vibe of this thing, and who would want to? It’s going to make a ton of money, and Tom Hanks‘ performance as the beloved Fred Rogers will snag a Best Supporting Actor nom. It’s not a brilliant film, but it’s an awfully nice one.
The gentle scheme is to present a mostly factual, real-life story — all about an evolving relationship that actually happened 21 years ago between a somewhat testy and suspicious writer and his serene-minded subject, and how it turned out for the better.
The trick is that the film actually feels like — is — an episode of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. It deals with angry adult workaholic stuff (i.e., mostly Vogel’s issues with his father, played by Chris Cooper) but adheres to the emotional tone and terms of this fanciful, tender-hearted kids show.
Hanks obviously owns this film, but it’s a little curious that Heller and screenwriters Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster decided to only portray the Fred Rogers of legend. I’m not saying Rogers was someone else deep down, but he’s so gently mannered and all. Did he ever swear or fart or snap at anyone…ever? And the film is soooo slowly paced and extra-double-triple gentle and quiet. There are sooo many close-ups and MCUs. So many actor-ish expressions of rage, surprise and buried anger on Rhys’ face. And that three-week beard…yeesh.
I don’t believe that the actual Tom Junod slugged his father during a wedding reception. Angry sons do this in movies; not so much in real life. Critic friend: “I think the slugging-the-father scene rings false even as a movie scene; but then, I think, A Beautiful Day recovers. There was a lot of criticism in Toronto about how the Matthew Rhys parts aren’t as strong as the Tom Hanks parts. I get that criticism, but what I think it misses is the way the whole film works together.”