12:27pm PT by Scott Feinberg
Toronto: 'A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood' Could Propel Tom Hanks to First Oscar Nom in 19 Years
Tom Hanks could be headed back to the Oscars as a nominee for the first time in 19 years.
The beloved actor's portrayal of late TV host Fred Rogers in Marielle Heller's A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood has been the talk of the Toronto International Film Festival since the Sony film, which is due out Nov. 22, premiered Saturday night at Roy Thomson Hall .
Coming just one year after Morgan Neville's massively acclaimed but Oscar-snubbed documentary Won't You Be My Neighbor? — and the TIFF premiere of Heller's last film, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, which resulted in Oscars noms for its screenplay and two its stars — this is not a Roger biopic. Rogers, in fact, isn't even the central protagonist — that's Matthew Rhys, playing a magazine writer based on Esquire's Tom Junod, whose 1998 profile of Rogers inspired the film. But make no mistake about it: This is Hanks' film.
When Hanks first appeared onscreen as the late sweater-clad Presbyterian minister — who has long been the subject of parodies (remember Eddie Murphy's Mister Robinson's Neighborhood on Saturday Night Live?) and conspiracy theories (he was actually an assassin?) — many audience members chuckled. But by the end of the film, which a fellow journalist aptly described a Mr. Rogers episode for adults, at least as many, it seemed to me, had been moved to tears. I suspect this is because it is hard to believe, in these deeply cynical times, that such an uncynical, decent, kind man walked among us — and even helped to raise many of us — not all that long ago. (Rogers died in 2003.)
I cannot imagine anyone but Hanks playing Rogers — sure, the actor is made up to look just like the original, but, more importantly, to feel the love for the character that one felt for the man, it helps to feel it for the actor, too, and people certainly love Hanks. He has played real-life heroes before — starting with Jim Lovell in Apollo 13, and, in just the past six years, Richard Phillips in Captain Phillips, James B. Donovan in Bridge of Spies, Chesley Sullenberger in Sully and Ben Bradlee in The Post. But, oddly enough, he may be most believable as Rogers, a fellow everyman who puts on no airs, treats everyone with respect and knows how to make the people around him feel comfortable.
The film itself is not perfect. Its screenplay, by Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster, leaves Rhys with a rather thankless job. As was also the case with 2009's Julie & Julia, the pic tries to make us care about the regular person's problems — which, in Neighborhood, are certainly legitimate, but manifest themselves in grating ways — when all we really want to do is get back to the character we know and love. However, the script and direction are also somewhat daring, especially in calling for a mid-film extended moment of silence that yanks at the heartstrings as much as any scene in the movie. At the end of the day, it is hard to imagine that the pic's shortcomings will get in the way of a sixth Oscar nom for Hanks, who should not be taken for granted, just as we shouldn't have taken Rogers for granted.