'A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood' is in cinemas 23 January.
The world can be incredibly cynical, and perhaps that’s why the image of Mister Rogers is a beloved, and eternally popular one.
Australia may have missed the Mister Rogers craze, but the man is a pop culture icon so revered that allegedly even 4Chan refuses to mock him. Yet ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood’, for all the sweetness and innocence, was an incredibly subversive show for its time, gleefully stomping the social norms of segregation and prejudice and even championing the cause of mental health and support. It seems telling, then, that as the world seems to be falling apart, a new version has shown up.
‘A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood’ isn’t a feature-length episode of ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood’ so much as a fictionalised biopic, so leave the mini-mes at home for this one. Interwoven among the puppets and performances is the sort of riveting drama that hooks you from the opening chords. Tom Hanks captures the essence of Fred Rogers beautifully, managing the earnest sweetness of a messiah-like figure out of step with a world that desperately wants to be in step with him. Truthfully, that could have gotten incredibly annoying, but the decision to have Rogers’ defend and reflect on his imperfections and discuss how he deals with them took it from an eye roll to the sort of movie that it’s really hard not to adore.
Most movies struggle with the binaries at play here, but the ability to seamlessly weave contrasts together is one of the strongest elements of the film. It’s funny without diminishing the drama. It’s sweet without being cloying, infantilising, or overlooking the issues being discussed. And it weaves the televisual and the real world in such a way that at times it feels like a conversation between you and Fred Rogers.
Not going to lie: it was odd to sit among older moviegoers, listening to them clap and hum and sing along to the theme song, but there’s something beautiful in watching men in business suits connect so strongly with their childhoods. That’s the power of nostalgia, and this movie has it in spades. Having only seen a few clips on YouTube, even I found myself feeling nostalgic for the sort of kid’s show that was less about polished perfection than about genuine affection and engagement.
Matthew Rhys looks like a secret Daddo lovechild, but brings the sort of snarky cynicism to the role of Lloyd Vogel that’s a perfect counterpoint to Mister Rogers’ sweetness. I imagine it’s difficult to be the real-world equivalent of the Disney character baffled by all the singing, but he manages with a grim sort of dignity.
This probably won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, and if you’re looking for fast-paced action or unrestrained cynicism, you’re going to hate it. But if you love exceptional drama laced with hope, love, and wonder, ‘A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood’ is definitely a must-see!
‘A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood’ is in cinemas 23 January.