A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood Movie Review: Tom Hanks guides a world in pursuit of happiness
The film is a 109-minute therapy session conducted by a Tom Hanks in sublime form, which is also wonderful cinema
Iconic TV host Fred Rogers is sitting in a cafe with journalist Lloyd Vogel, who is assigned to write a profile on the former. Lloyd is dealing with a nerve-wracking personal issue. Rogers asks him to observe a minute of silence to reflect on the people who have shaped his life so far. 30 seconds into the scene, Lloyd sheds a tear. The camera then pans to Rogers (a brilliant-as-always Tom Hanks), who is caringly looking at Lloyd. However, Rogers slowly shifts his gaze to look straight at the camera. He is looking at us. There is quietude in the theatre too. The gaze pierces through us, and it is almost like Rogers is asking us, the audience to think of our past. And, we do too. That moment, when we are subject to that hopeful pause and the all-knowing stare, is almost like therapy. We feel lighter, almost...happier.
Cast: Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Susan Kelechi Watson, Chris Cooper
Director: Marielle Heller
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a 109-minute therapy session that is also wonderful cinema. What happens when a cynical journalist faces a TV host who is a bundle of positivity? Lloyd is unable to believe the saccharine goodness in Rogers. What was supposed to be a single hour-long session to understand the man behind the icon becomes a journey of self-realisation for Lloyd. The more he learns about the goodness in Rogers, the more he mends the strained relationship with his estranged father, Jerry Vogel (Chris Cooper), and the more he understands the resentment of his wife, Andrea Vogel (Susan Kelechi Watson).
Rogers lives in a make-believe world that some might call utopia. But Rogers knows this make-believe isn’t a wish that just becomes true. It requires effort and incessant trying. He believes in the innate goodness in everyone to accomplish this, and his compendious dialogues and wide smiles make us believe in it too, albeit temporarily. Although the film is named after Rogers' show that ran from 1968-2001, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is more about Lloyd. Actually, it is more about the cynic in us who once was hopeful of finding happiness.
What works best for the film is the lack of preachiness despite being a dialogue-heavy film. Even when Rogers and Lloyd discuss anger, forgiveness, empathy, love, fame, parenting, vegetarianism, and...death, there is no didactic tone to the proceedings. The music by Nate Heller, and the usage of silence, helps a lot too. The level of positivity exuded by Rogers is actually baffling in the world we live in, and it makes sense when an exasperated Lloyds asks Rogers' wife how she could live with a "living saint.'' Her response surmises the intent of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. "Don't call him that. If you think of him as a saint, it makes his way of being unattainable, and that's not the case."
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is all about how that pursuit of happiness begins from the self. As Andrea, who reads the 10,000-word profile that was originally supposed to be just 400 words, says, "This article is less about Rogers and more about you." In a world filled with negativity, cynicism, strife, and violence, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a breath of fresh air that makes us not lose hope. And who better to guide us through this journey than a genial Tom Hanks, who once taught us that everything will be alright in life, which is essentially like a box of chocolates.