A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019)
I didn’t grow up with Fred Rogers. I’ve never even heard of him in the UK. As a result there’s no real nostalgia, which I suspect this delivers in spades for a US audience. I still recognise the charm of revisiting the past though and the simplicity of children’s television is pretty universal. Nick Drake rolls over the opening credits, this can only ever be a great thing and I’m hopeful, but wait a minute. What follows is a little unusual, essentially a film structured around a children’s show, ‘let’s go the window’ stuff, into real world scenarios. Those scenarios though follow Lloyd, a writer, doing a story on... Mr Rogers, it’s all very post-modern, but subtle enough to avoid distraction. Lloyd’s life isn’t simple either, extended family tension, a new baby, his complicated life is totally at odds with the calm simplicity of Mr Rogers. I’ve never seen Fred Rogers on TV, but I’m lead to believe that Tom Hanks’ portrayal is eerily accurate, which if true is quite remarkable. Fred Rogers is... well... unique. Gentle, understanding, insightful, disarmingly humble. The glass isn’t half full, it’s bottomless and always brimming. Lloyd doesn’t really understand this, his work is about digging, finding the truth. When asked for a simple profile piece on Rogers, his cynical nature struggles to take Rogers at face value, I completely understand this, Rogers doesn’t seem real. But even so, a scene with Fred and Lloyd on a subway train being sung to by the whole carriage seems totally believable, plausible, no Hollywood schmaltz. It’s a battle between Fred and Lloyd, who’s really profiling who, lost in probing personal conversations that Lloyd indulges in to further his work, but Fred expertly navigates to help his new friend. What’s he hiding? Is he hiding anything? It seems like Lloyd is in touch with his feelings, they’re raw on the surface, whilst Fred, well does he have any, he’s so robotic, sweet but robotic. Of course the truth is they’re both in touch, in different ways and more connected than Lloyd at the start of the process could ever imagine. It’s beautifully effective, arresting, packed with heart, soul, grit and drama. Wildly inventive, much more than the sum of its parts and much much more than simple nostalgia. I dare you to watch this without smiling, without crying, without being moved. I imagine if Mr Rogers were with us today, he’d be immensely proud.