I finally watched ‘A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood’. I don’t know anything about this film, except having an impression that it might be a cross between Pee-wee Herman and Sesame Street, perhaps with the quirkiness of a Tim Burton movie. The look of the film is deliberately colour-saturated and dated. I don’t know what to expect, and before pressing the play button on Netflix, there was a sense of hesitation combined with a come-what-may resignation. Even though I know this movie has won over some cynical critics and Tom Hanks was nominated for an academy award for his performance, I half expect to stop watching after a few minutes. But I continued watching. So Tom Hanks plays Mister Rogers, Fred Rogers, the iconic children’s TV host who is kindness, decency and patience personified. There is something potentially too on the nose about casting Hanks who is Hollywood’s nicest man as Mister Rogers. It is. Until it isn’t.
In the hands of Marielle Heller, there is sensitivity and zero sentimentality. Instead there is weirdness. Dark subjects, infidelity, desertion, hatred, cynicism, betrayal, heartbreak and death are dealt with head-on by the goodness of humanity. Almost like wrapping darkness as colourful Christmas presents complete with ribbons. We all know someone who is always saying thank you, always speaking slowly, always positive, and always knowing. Such a person can be annoying on a bad day. Or on any day. Yet this ever gracious person can be consistent, relentless. And disarming. ‘A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood’ is, above everything else, a disarming film. Bold in its goodness. Not shying away from the good. In doing so, it literally shows how good can overcome bad. With Hanks, Mister Rogers has an underlying intelligence to his warmth. Matthew Rhys as the hard-nosed magazine profile writer has enough shades of grey to ground this film in reality and lend it the relevance from which we can feel empathy. In almost every way, this film is old-fashioned. In many ways, this is what is good about it.