After skipping last week thanks to TMINE taking the day off, Orange Thursday is back with two top movie reviews, both of which are out in the cinemas – and getting both Oscar nominations and wins.
The two movies in question are:
- A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019) – in which a jaded journalist has his life changed for the better (for once) by a famous 1970s children’s TV presenter
- Parasite (2019) – South Korea unexpectedly does Ayn Rand, in a genre-shifting version of ITV show Chancer
See you after the ads and the trailers.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019)
Lloyd Vogel is an investigative journalist who receives an assignment to profile Fred Rogers, aka Mr Rogers. He approaches the interview with scepticism, as he finds it hard to believe that anyone can have such a good nature.
But Roger’s empathy, kindness and decency soon chips away at Vogel’s jaded outlook on life, forcing the reporter to reconcile with his own painful past.
As pretty much every film show that’s covered A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood has been happy to point out, Fred Rogers and his US PBS TV show Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood never made it over to the UK. Sesame Street, yes, Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood, no.
It’s a bit hard to describe, but it was more or less a one-man show that ran for decades in the US that was designed to teach children the value of empathy and kindness, as well as how to handle their own emotions – even on quite difficult subjects such as divorce and death – using models, glove puppets and a few choice guests.
Rather than try to describe it, though, maybe have a watch of these nice videos, which should set the tone of the show for you.
Now the natural response of any true Brit (particularly post-Savile et al) to such outright niceness is to wonder if something’s up – what’s his game? What’s he really like?
And that’s pretty much what A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is – intrepid investigative journalist Matthew Rhys (The Americans) trying to work out what Fred Rogers’ game is as he profiles him for a heroes issue of Esquire. Except Mr Rogers has no game other than to help the obviously distressed Rhys deal with his own personal demons.
It sounds like a fabricated PR piece, but yes, it really did happen, albeit less dramatically than the movie depicts. And to be honest, you could well be a different person than the one you were when you started watching A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, because it is genuinely transformative and liable to make you want to be a better person.
A beautiful day at the movies
The movie first recreates Rogers’ show, picking the only man who could ever really persuade us he’s as saintly and as nice as Rogers apparently was – Tom Hanks. We then meet Rhys and his issues, before walking us through various encounters between Hanks and Rhys in which Rhys tries to probe beneath Hanks’ outer shell of niceness, only to discover an inner shell of niceness, albeit one that doesn’t always come naturally but takes effort and practice.
And it’s all beautifully done. Hanks’ efforts to help Rhys, despite Rhys’ efforts to take him down, are properly moving and Rhys convinces as a man full of anger and pain who’s slowly taught by Rogers how to deal with his emotions and overcome them. Some of that narrative stems from that original Esquire article, some of it doesn’t, but it doesn’t really matter what’s real and what’s not – and to be honest, Rhys’ article is probably better than the original one anyway.
This isn’t a soft-soap job either, with the movie making it clear that Rogers’ wasn’t absolutely a saint, having had problems with his sons when they were teenagers (prompting a three-year pause to his TV show so he could spend more time with them), and that he absolutely had to work to deal with his anger, for example – a daily swim and pounding a piano from time to time was his solution.
What really makes the movie, beyond the performances and the script, are its odder touches. As well as Hanks breaking the fourth wall in some scenes, numerous model shots are used to tell the story in the style of the TV show; Rhys sometimes imagines himself on set, model-sized, in glorious NTSC video colour, talking with the puppets. There’s even one scene that asks the audience to sit in silence for a minute to think about all the loved ones who have moulded them and made them the people they are today. This has the feel of an indie movie, not a mainstream blockbuster.
I am a cynical journalist and by the end of the movie, I too had been wooed to Mr Rogers’ ways. If by the end you’re not wanting to show kindness to your loved ones and others – and wanting to watch Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood – I’m going to go out on a limb and say you’re a sociopath. So there.
Greed and class discrimination threaten the newly formed symbiotic relationship between the wealthy Park family and the destitute Kim clan.
Wittertainment reliably argues that the best way to watch Parasite is to go in without knowing anything about it. So I’ll endeavour not to say anything at all about Parasite that would ruin it for those who haven’t seen it.
However, I think it’s fairly safe to say it’s about a poor family that gradually cons itself into a rich family by providing various services, including tutoring and driving. It’s also a South Korean movie by Bong Joon Ho that tackles similar class issues as his previous outing, Snowpiercer, does, but in a far more integrated, less episodic way.
Obviously, being an Asian movie there are cultural differences – not just language, but also culture, history, geography, climate and more. However, the usual approach to any class-based movie in the west – call it liberal bias, the legacy of Marxism, delayed guilt for imperialism, the legacy of 70s socialism, or concern for the underdog, according to your sympathies – is to root for the working class and to stick it to the upper class.
However, it takes some getting used to but despite not being made by Walt Whitman, Parasite is a movie that sides with the upper class – the parasites of the title are the working class. The first half of the movie essentially deals with how the parasites infect their host, the second half of the movie… well, that would spoil it. But what do you think unrestrained parasites do, particularly if there are co-morbidities?
That first half is pretty choice, as we watch our working class ‘heroes’ inveigle their way into the upper class household. We see how they have to pretend to appreciate the child’s poor art and cater to the parents’ various ways. Our sympathies, trained by western movies, naturally fall to the blue collar protagonists, living in the terrible conditions of their semi-basement dwelling, where they keep their windows open to receive free fumigation when the outside neighbourhood is being treated. And the movie does satirise upper class sensibilities and sensitivities compared to the hard WiFi-less life of the working class.
There’s an enjoyable comedy in that first half as we watch the family lie their way into the home of another family, knocking out the existing servant class along the way. It is by parts My Fair Lady and ITV’s Chancer – before ultimately becoming The Comedy Errors – as the working class learns how to ingratiate itself and blend in with the upper class and its expectations. What is the line between them and can one cross it?
But the movie’s ultimate sympathies are with the cosseted but well-meaning upper classes. In the second half, as the movie becomes a combination of thriller and horror, it becomes clear that by trying to cross the class-divide, the working class will cause the death of both the host and itself.
It’s a surprisingly objectivist turn for the movie that takes a little time to process.
To be fair, that first half is a very enjoyable, comedic affair. It just rubs up against the second half badly, leaving one wondering if the message really is “Know your limits“.
Disconcerting message to one side, the movie is at least technically very skilled, with a fine cast. There’s certainly a density to the ideas in the script and a depth that invites many readings. All the same, the second half is an obfuscation of the movie’s central theme that renders its message ambiguous and to a certain extent eminently refutable.
You’ll be talking about Parasite for a long time after the movie ends, but not necessarily because of the movie itself, more because the movie’s message ends up cloudier, more metaphorical and more suspect the closer you inspect it. Parasite could certainly be clearer, but just as Snowpiercer was ultimately a metaphorical piece of class warfare on a train, so Parasite is a metaphor that’s not 100% sure what it’s trying to say.