Let Tom Hanks Help You Through 2020
By Sophie Monks Kaufman
Even by January standards, 2020 started in a grim fashion. Fires raged through southern Australia and President Trump assassinated Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, leaving many to wonder whether World War 3 was just around the corner. These global augurs of doom would justify the average person in stripping back their new year's resolutions in favour of simple survival.
But Tom Hanks is still trying to be good.
At the 77th annual Golden Globes Ceremony, held in Los Angeles on Sunday 5 January, the 63-year-old actor, was given the Cecil B DeMille award, an honorary award given to people whom the Hollywood Foreign Press Association deem to have made "outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment."
In his acceptance speech Hanks charmed the room, and millions watching, by getting choked up not once, but twice, about how much he loved his family.
Furthermore he shared the credit for his body of work with all the actors he's ever stolen from, all the directors and screenwriters he's ever worked with, and straight up everyone who ever showed up and hit their mark on his film-sets, shouting out specifically to make-up artists and focus-pullers.
He also dispensed sage words about the fundamentals of acting, impersonating Dan Sullivan, a director he had in his first big break at the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival in 1977. “We had partied a little bit too much the night before,” said Hanks, “We were showing up for the rehearsals and he screamed at us - well, he did actually scream at us - he said, ‘Hey look, you guys! You actors! You know what your job is? You have got to show up on time, and you have to know the text, and you have to have a head full of ideas. Otherwise I can't do my job.' That was the greatest lesson a young actor could possibly ever get."
This taster of Hanks will be followed by a full meal on 31 January with the UK release of A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood, a film drenched in humanist brilliance and the third feature to be directed by Marielle Heller, whose previous two, Diary of a Teenage Girl and Can You Ever Forgive Me? are both exquisite character studies of unusual female creatives.
In A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood, Hanks plays Fred Rogers, the cherished, red-cardigan-wearing, American children's TV host, whose show Mister Rogers' Neighbourhood ran from 1968-74 and 1979-2001. He and supporting characters, including puppets, helped children to deal with weighty emotional matters. The film is an adaptation of a 1998 Esquire magazine article called Can You Say... Hero? by Tom Junod, an investigative journalist and hardened cynic who was emotionally transformed by the process of spending time with Mister Rogers.
Marielle Heller focuses on the journalist, redubbed Lloyd, bringing to life the anger that flares up whenever personally difficult feelings come to the surface, eventually tracing this back to unresolved childhood traumas. Welsch actor Matthew Rhys gives a deep and understated performance of a man whose interior world is made vivid through tiny tells: a small eye movement here, a mouth flicker there. He is able to change the temperature of a scene through a protracted silence, or the hardening of his voice.
His opposite yet equal, his co-star, Tom Hanks rolls out a much softer and more reflective performance. In an interview published by The New York Times under the headline This Tom Hanks Story Will Help You Feel Less Bad, Hanks told journalist Taffy Brodesser-Akner that he studied hours worth of tapes of Misters Rogers speaking, trying to nail both his specific cadence and his intimate mode of address. Hanks said of Mister Rogers that he was “always talking to a single kid, a single person two feet on the other side of the camera screen. They said when you were talking to Fred, you felt as though you were the only person in the world that mattered to him.”
Hanks has mirrored this to-camera technique. With it comes the sense that he is talking to you as you watch the film. It is this fourth-wall-breaking delivery of loving kindness and empathy that makes A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood so moving. Watching it, I felt that Hanks through Heller was telling me, as Mister Rogers told so many kids: "You're enough as you are.
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