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Posts Tagged ‘Marielle Heller’

Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys

“IT’S A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD” My rating: B+ (Opens wide on Nov. 22)

108 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

Movie trailers are a hugely effective way of lying. One should always approach them with the same caution brought to political postings on Facebook.

So my tearful response to the trailer for “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” with Tom Hanks as the iconic PBS kiddie show star Fred Rogers, left me wary.  Could the actual movie really be that moving, or would it fall apart in a morass of manipulation and sentimentality?

Good news, Mr. Rogers fans.  “Beautiful Day” sidesteps virtually all the landmines in its path and delivers a funny, touching and uplifting story about a man who was too good to be true.

Fred Rogers was the subject last year of an exhaustive documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”; happily director Marielle Heller (“Diary of a Teenage Girl,” “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”) and screenwriters Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harvester (working from Tom Junod’s 1998 Esquire profile of Rogers) don’t turn “Beautiful Day” into another retelling of the famous man’s life. In fact, one could argue that Fred Rogers is a supporting character here.

The film centers on Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), a (fictional) investigative journalist whose specialty is digging up dirt on his subjects. He’s tough and analytical and cynical…and appalled when his editor assigns him to write a 500-word piece — essentially a long caption –on Mr. Rogers. (“Play nice,” she urges him.)

He doesn’t want the assignment. His wife Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson of TV’s “This Is Us”) sees disaster looming: “Please don’t ruin my childhood.”

Lloyd has more than a little baggage from his own childhood.  Early on we see his encounter at a wedding with his father Jerry (Chris Cooper), whom he hasn’t seen for years; it almost immediately devolves into a father-son brawl.

Fifteen years earlier, when Lloyd’s mother became fatally ill, the philandering Jerry abandoned her and his two children. Now Lloyd carries a manhole cover-sized grudge. When Lloyd first interviews Fred Rogers (Hanks) at the Pittsburgh TV station where the show is taped, the evidence of his Oedipal issues is all over his bruised face.

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Melissa McCarthy

“CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?” My rating: 
106 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Can a criminal act be a form of art?

Well, yes — at least according to “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”

Writer/director Marielle Heller’s sophomore feature (after the hair-raising “Diary of a Teenage Girl”) is based on the real case of Lee Israel, a minor author of literary and show-biz biographies who back in the early ’90s revived her flagging financial fortunes by forging and selling nearly 400 letters from famous literary types like Noel Coward and Dorothy Parker.

Starring Melissa McCarthy (in serious mode) as the curmudgeonly Israel and Richard E. Grant as her lowlife friend and co-conspirator, “Can You Ever…” walks a fine line between bathos and black humor. Along the way it gets you rooting for the “bad” guys.

When we first meet McCarthy’s Lee she’s trying to get her long-time agent (Jane Curtin) to cough up advance money for a bio of vaudeville legend Fanny Brice. That isn’t going to happen. As the agent calmly points out, there’s no interest in a Fanny Brice book and, anyway, Lee’s snarling personality pretty much alienates everyone she comes into contact with.

Indeed, Lee has just lost a temp gig for drinking on the job and loudly cursing her co-workers. Her sole friend is her cat, who needs medicine she cannot afford. Lee’s not above stealing another woman’s coat at a literary cocktail party.

She’s slugging them back at her local bar when she makes the acquaintance of Jack Hock (Grant), an aging British queen who passes himself off as a jaded sophisticate (he’s jaded, but hardly sophisticated) while living hand-to-mouth on NYC’s mean streets.

Jack’s catty, go-for-broke outlook meshes nicely with Lee’s misanthropy…they’re just what the other needs. For a while they’re mere drinking buddies.

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