While many filmgoers will be excited to see the new Tom Hanks movie 'A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood', my main concern in the months leading up to its release is: will Australian viewers even want to see a Mr Rogers film? We, as a nation, were not privy to the beloved TV show 'Mister Rogers' Neighbourhood'. At the time, it was not deemed suitable for Australian audiences. We simply don't possess the demeanour for such a show; a decision made on behalf of the country by an anonymous television suit to many, but most days I call him Dad. Yes, believe it or not, my father is the reason Mr Rogers is unknown to generations of Aussie children. While American children enjoyed the soft, calming nature of one Fred Rogers on a daily basis, we Aussies had Agro, Daryl Somers and Ossie Ostrich, and what eventually became "our" 'Mister Rogers' Neighbourhood' - 'Shirl's Neighbourhood'. Ah yes, the pieces are starting to come together.
But how are we to enjoy and relate to a film about Mr Rogers? Well, put those queries aside folks because - bombshell - it's not actually about him. You see, Mr Rogers isn't just a man or a character, he's an idea; he's your conscience and he's your friend. Loosely based on a true story, 'A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood' follows recently de-favoured Esquire journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys, TV's 'The Americans') in the midst of a feud with his estranged father while also experiencing life as a new dad when he's given the assignment to write a short profile on Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks, 'Captain Phillips', 'Sully'). Not a big fan of seeing the good in people, Lloyd is thrown for a loop when he meets the nicest man in the world. And not one to shy away from a new friend, Fred in turn endeavours to learn all he can about his interviewer, even if that means turning the table on who it is asking the questions. Could this be the beginning of a beautiful friendship?
The film takes the brilliant yet disarming approach for the uninitiated of executing the film like a 'Mister Rogers' Neighbourhood' episode.
Taking the brilliant yet disarming approach for the uninitiated of executing the film like a 'Mister Rogers' Neighbourhood' episode, filmmaker Marielle Heller ('Can You Ever Forgive Me?') has themed this "episode" around forgiveness. Complete with appearances from puppets, a song and the miniature model city segues, Heller has created Mr Rogers' most powerful episode yet. Often heralded for his tackling of difficult subjects such as death and divorce, this is a fitting homage to the American zeitgeist staple and childhood defining figure.
Quirky, unique, beautiful, even dark yet moving, 'A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood' shatters all expectations and leaves you with a sense of peace and understanding. Featuring performances by the incomparable Tom Hanks who does a better Mr Rogers than Mr Rogers himself and the always transfixing Matthew Rhys, this will be a fitting and satisfactorily addition to the legacy of this adored American hero.