It’s a beautiful day in the movie theater, thanks to Tom Hanks and “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.”
Using Mr. Rogers as her catalyst, director Marielle Heller shows how kindness can make big changes in the world. It’s a simple premise, but one that works well, particularly since Hanks plays Rogers, that soft-spoken hero of the pre-school set.
He drifts in and out of the story of Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), a writer who’s estranged from his father and a bit of a problem for his editor. When he’s assigned to profile Rogers for a series on heroes, Vogel resists, then realizes he isn’t exactly someone sources want telling their stories. Rogers agrees and, quickly, we learn much of the writer’s anger comes from his hard-drinking, tough-talking father (Chris Cooper).
In a first interview, Rogers sizes up the anger, interviews the writer and tries to help him find peace. The switch is so subtle even Vogel isn’t sure who’s in control.
Following Rogers around his studio, home and community, Vogel sees how his quiet ways touch thousands. Fans sing to him on the train. His wife joins him for duets on the piano. Co-workers respond to his simple requests.
Hanks makes those moments resonate just by lowering his voice, slowing his pace and offering up a smile. He disarms people, too, when he takes their pictures and asks his new friend to meet his relatives.
In time, Vogel understands his anger, reaches an impasse with dad and figures out how to move on.
The personal journey becomes part of his Esquire profile, prompting Rogers to get the rest of the story.
Heller gives Hanks an opening for more discovery and a chance to get the tears flowing. Hanks doesn’t waste a drop. When he says prayers for the folks in his life, you’ll realize Mr. Rogers isn’t just a figment of one man’s imagination, he’s the real deal.
Because it’s not the Fred Rogers story (last year’s documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”, handled that), “A Beautiful Day” has the ability to take risks without betraying its inspiration.
The film does so nicely and lets music – Rogers’ and others’ – accompany the journey.
While Mr. Rogers struck some as an odd duck, Hanks proves he was merely his own man – someone who realized kindness can cover a multitude of sins.
Thanks to this film, Rogers is ripe for new appreciation and Hanks is bound for awards attention.
Both are great examples of what’s needed now, more than ever.