Marielle Heller‘s “A Beautiful Day in Neighborhood” could well bag Tom Hanks that elusive sixth Oscar nomination. Hanks plays children TV legend Fred Rogers in this inspiring film based on the true story of his real-life friendship with journalist (Matthew Rhys). Its nostalgic tone is just the tonic we need right now.
Hanks won back-to-back Academy Awards for Best Actor (for 1994’s “Philadelphia” and 1995’s “Forrest Gump”). His last Oscar bid was in 2001 for “Cast Away.” He’s been snubbed for a string of critically-lauded performances since then including star turns in “Charlie Wilson’s War” (2008), “Captain Phillips” (2014), “Bridge of Spies” (2016), and “The Post” (2018), plus a supporting role in 2014’s “Saving Mr. Banks.”
After all of these near misses (he came closest with Paul Greengrass‘ “Captain Phillips” after earning nominations at SAG, the Globes, the Critics Choice, and BAFTA), he is certainly overdue. And Oscar voters may well want want to right this wrong after all of these close calls. And what better material to do so? Hanks, the nicest guy in Hollywood, is playing Mr. Rogers, the nicest guy ever to be on TV. It’s a perfect fit and the critics were completely charmed by Hanks’ Mr. Rogers.
Benjamin Lee (The Guardian) notes, “casting Hanks as Rogers seemed almost too fitting conceptually – one beloved, fundamentally “good” US father figure playing another. It’s a deep-rooted transformation and, while Hanks avoids attempting to awkwardly replicate Rogers’ voice – although he does nail his cadence – he focuses on exuding the same bewitching, patient curiosity that Rogers had in the people he met.” Lee regards Heller’s movie as “a moving and engrossing departure from a traditional biopic” and writes, “with her biggest film to date, she [Heller] confirms that she’s the real deal, confidently showcasing her adeptness with a larger canvas while also infusing her film with an idiosyncratic touch. She’s able to conjure a mood that runs through the mostly straightforward narrative, a deceptively simple skill that many directors with far greater experience cannot master.”
Kambole Campbell (The Independent) raves about the actor writing that “Hank’s turn as Mister Rogers balances the myth of the public figure with his famed humility; it’s a quiet, humble performance that steers just clear enough of imitation, while the film resists, for the most part, leaning too heavily on nostalgia. Instead, it uses Rogers to explore his values via the effect on the people who come into contact with him.” Campbell says that Heller imbues the film “with delightful creative flourishes that set it apart from how a standard biopic might tackle this particular story,” and says that Hanks ensures the film is moving, full of warmth and with a kind heart.
Robbie Collin (The Telegraph) is even kinder to Hanks, saying that Heller’s film features “a twinkling performance from Tom Hanks, perfectly cast as Rogers himself.” He writes that “thanks to his [Hanks’] meticulously controlled performance – and the kind of wide-eyed close-ups into which you can feel yourself toppling – he’s a hypnotic presence in the most literal sense of the term. You may find yourself wishing, as I did, that someone would talk to you in the same way as he talks to Lloyd, making the manic whir of adult life slide to a halt.”
Eric Kohn (Indie Wire) also praises Heller, observing that she “excels at pulling heartstrings from sturdy foundations, injecting smart and insightful details into material that could easily default to sentimentality.” He says, “Marielle Heller mines intelligent observations and storytelling twists from the ultimate sentimental subject.” Kohn calls Rhys’ performance “steady and nuanced,” but reserves his highest praise for Hanks.”His cuddly pedigree means he was born to play Rogers, and he immerses himself in the role of the happy-go-lucky charmer who takes a photo of everyone he meets and embraces his appeal alongside his fans, even singing his theme song along with them on a New York subway.”
Likewise, Todd McCarthy (The Hollywood Reporter) says “there’s no question that Hanks is perfect in the part, as the actor’s amiability and unquestionable sincerity make for an ideal match with the unique television personality.” Indeed, he notes “it only takes a couple of minutes of watching Hanks go through the Rogers rituals on the familiar set of his show to know that you’re in good hands — that the actor will entirely deliver the Rogers persona physically, vocally and in attitude. In fact, it’s easy to imagine that many people will relax into the movie so much that they’ll forget they’re watching an impersonation.”
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