Tag: matthew rhys

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood


A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019)
★★★ / ★★★★

Based on the Esquire article “Can You Say… Hero?” by Tom Junod, the biographical drama “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” manages to stand out a bit from its contemporaries because it is able to capture the essence of Fred Rogers (known to many Americans as Mr. Rogers)—even though the work itself is not about him. It employs slow but purposeful pacing to fascinate, silence to give us room to consider, and irregular beats to draw us deeply into the conflict surrounding a man who cannot find it within himself to forgive his father.

Matthew Rhys plays investigative journalist Lloyd Vogel with a convincing weariness. One looks at his face even for just a few seconds and seething anger can be felt. But the anger is not menacing; rather it is the kind that eats up its host little by little, decade after decade. This anger reaches a boiling point when Lloyd’s father (Chris Cooper) is suddenly thrown back into his life. Rhys delivers a solid performance that stands strong alongside Tom Hanks’ interpretation of the legendary Mr. Rogers. When the two are engaged in a reflective exchange, for instance, they manage to hit every subtle emotion seemingly without effort. When the camera is up close and personal and emotions are exorcised, it feels like a dance.

I think it is a challenge to pull off this type of script. A jaded person crossing paths with a saintly figure and the former learning to have a more positive outlook on life by the end of the story is nothing particularly new. However, there are enough fresh ideas here to blindside the viewers from identifying the more familiar turns of the plot—like taking Mr. Rogers’ empathetic/humanistic approach of dealing with “the mad” one feels, which is targeted toward children, and applying this idea to adults. Had it been helmed by heavier hands, it could have been reduced to yet another Lifetime drama where everyone cries during the climax and all is happy by the end credits. Marielle Heller’s direction is careful and nuanced, so the journey comes across genuine.

Having seen Morgan Neville’s terrific documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”, I admit I was put off by Hanks’ performance initially. The film opens with Mr. Rogers entering his home, making eye contact with the viewers, taking off the blazer, putting on the famous red cardigan… while singing the theme song. Although I did not grow up with Mr. Rogers or his television program, I felt as though Hanks is more on the side of imitation rather than simply inhabiting.

Having said that, I grew to enjoy his version of Mr. Rogers about a third of the way through—when the character is no longer shooting another episode in front of the camera. Curiously, he remains to be a saint-like figure. It is acknowledged Mr. Rogers is not perfect and does feel anger from time to time, but this is shown only once. The fact that he had challenging relationships with his sons is mentioned, but it is disappointing that it is not delved into. It would have been appropriate because the central conflict revolves around father and son. The thought of the picture being afraid of putting a stain on Rogers’ memory and legacy crossed my mind.

Despite this key shortcoming, I was emotionally engaged by the film. I wondered not necessarily whether Lloyd would choose to forgive his father but rather if he could forgive himself in allowing so many years to pass for harboring so much anger and hatred. Make no mistake that this is Lloyd’s story, not Mr. Roger’s. It does, however, make an appropriate and worthy companion piece with “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” in that both provide layers worth examining closely.

The Edge of Love


The Edge of Love (2008)
★★ / ★★★★

Poet Dylan Thomas (Matthew Ryhs) makes a living writing scripts for the government during World War II. When not at work, he enjoys spending time with a childhood friend, Vera (Keira Knightley), a singer, in a bar, drinking, flirting, and chain smoking. When Dylan’s wife, Caitlin (Sienna Miller), pays him a visit, she suspects that he might be having an affair. Meanwhile, William (Cillian Murphy), a soldier, admires Vera’s beauty and elegance from afar.

Based on a true story, “The Edge of Love,” written by Sharman Macdonald, works more like a commercial for things to do to distract oneself during a war rather than embodying a focused and engaging story about a poet with a yearning to contribute his talent. The first half seems to be about the glamour of being free and not having to be responsible. Everything glows beautifully, from Vera’s hair as she entertains the bar’s customers to the alcohol-filled glasses being handed to those who wish to escape the horrible and traumatizing realities of the outside world.

I enjoyed deciphering the relationship among Dylan, Vera, and Caitlin. While too apparent push and pull forces are present between the two women, they are marginally interesting because the performers play upon a certain level of mystique. A kind of friendship is built upon what could have been jealousy or rivalry. By the end, it can be argued that what they come to share is the only true and lasting element in the film.

There are amusing moments when Dylan believes he is the center of attention—so seemingly adored by the women in his life—but he fails to realize that at times he is being made fun of for his tomfoolery. Somewhere in the middle, however, the picture is stripped off of its glamour. This is the point where we expect Dylan’s story to move front and center so we can understand how his mind works, his specific motivations, how much he values his partner, the children that they have, and the war that threatens to destroy everything.

It is disappointing because the screenplay comes across as reluctant to really delve into the darker side of his relationships. Tragic things happen but more than half are so out of context, sometimes I found myself confused and was forced to think back to the film’s common threads and themes in order to try to make sense what had just transpired. The lack of clarity in terms of presenting events in a logical way is problematic because instead of being invested in the emotions and psychology of the drama as well as anticipating what might happen, I spent ample time looking back.

While the women’s story held my interest, especially at the point when they are forced to evaluate their worth in their men’s lives as well as a possible attraction between the two of them, I wondered why Dylan is missing from the frame for extended amount of time. When he is finally shown, the picture fails to provide dimension. We see him drinking, looking sad, and acting cranky but we are not given a full understanding of him after the partying and fun times have come and gone. So when he makes critical decisions pertaining to another character near the end, it comes across more random than shocking. Since we never get to know Dylan as a person, his emotions and actions lack depth and resonance.

Directed by John Maybury, if “The Edge of Love” were a fashion video, it would be a success. It inspires us to look at the intricate details of the clothes and how the actors carry off the looks. However, as a peek into a time period in Dylan Thomas’ life, a poet of whom I had no knowledge of, it is quite uninformative.