Around a year ago, I did a review on the Mr. Rogers documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” The film was an informative but also emotional experience as we delved into the life of Fred Rogers and his hit show, “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Now, just a year later, we have a feature-length biographical drama titled, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” based on the real-life friendship between Fred Rogers and the journalist sent to interview him, Tom Junod—though his name has been changed to Lloyd Vogel for the sake of the story.
The story takes place in 1998. Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) is a journalist who’s reached a rough point in his life. As if trying to raise his newborn child with his wife Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson) wasn’t already difficult, things get even more arduous when his father, Jerry Vogel (Chris Cooper), returns to try and bury the hatchet decades in the making; something Lloyd has no interest in. Lloyd is soon given a new assignment by his publisher to conduct a profile story of the beloved star and children’s icon, Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks). For Lloyd, it’s just a puff piece and waste of his talents, but after one meeting with the gentle entertainer, Lloyd soon becomes obsessed with learning all he can about Mr. Rogers in the hopes of finding something negative to expose. However, in his search to find something that’s not even there, and some help from Mr. Rogers, Lloyd will learn you’re never too old to change your outlook on the world.
“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is the most beautiful and heartwarming film I’ve seen this year. This is one I’ve been looking forward to seeing since the first trailer aired, and even that was enough to have a powerful effect on me. I’m glad that the name Fred Rogers is getting more mention in our modern media because Mr. Rogers is an important figure in Human History that needs to be taught so that people will not only remember the impact his show had, but also remember the kind things he stood for. This was not a man who talked down or preached at others, Mr. Rogers was about talking one on one with his listeners, who believed in the art of communication, and teaching both children and adults to love others, but most of all, love themselves. A theme that “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” captures perfectly.
The film has a similar atmosphere to the original show, with transitions using prop buildings and sets that mirror how “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” would transition. It definitely feels like the people who wrote and directed the film knew the source material, and how Mr. Rogers worked, and they perfectly captured it all for this feature-length film. Usually, a drama will have its established theme and feed it to the audience in a manner that dictates how they’re supposed to feel. However, this film doesn’t do it that way. The movie respects its audience’s intelligence and lets the viewer feel however he or she wants to. This film is more or less a ‘Reflection’ type of story. It lets its viewers reflect on the themes and moments presented and allows you to decide how to feel. If it makes you sad, that’s okay. If it makes you happy, that’s also okay. Like Mr. Rogers himself, the movie respects your feelings and wants you to respond in whatever manner you feel.
Tom Hanks disappears into his role; I can’t imagine anyone better for it. He perfectly captures the mannerisms and relaxing presence of the real Fred Rogers, to the point where I actually forgot I was watching Tom Hanks acting as Fred Rogers, and just thought I was watching the real Mr. Rogers. Then again, Tom Hanks has had years of experience playing wholesome characters in movies thanks to his role in films like “Forrest Gump” or “Toy Story.”
What makes “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” so interesting is the relationship between Tom Hanks and Matthew Rhys, or more accurately, Fred Rogers and Lloyd Vogel. These are two individuals who believe in telling listeners the truth, and the truth is unfortunately often nasty. Mr. Rogers has talked numerously about themes most shows would consider too dark: Death, divorce, assassination, just to name a few. The difference between the two, however, is Lloyd is a man who sees the glass as half empty, while Mr. Rogers sees it as half full. One has a more cynical outlook on the world, while another has a more open and positive outlook. So, it makes for an interesting narrative as we watch Lloyd try to find something negative in Mr. Rogers, while Mr. Rogers can already see the positives in Lloyd’s life—positives not even Lloyd could see.
“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is rated PG for some strong thematic material, a brief fight, and some mild language. This film is so powerful that I still have tears in my eyes even as I write this review. It does everything right and even adds its own spin in a manner that fits the tone of Mr. Rogers’ show. I never had the honor of meeting the man himself, but I’d like to think Fred Rogers would be proud of this film; because his fans and myself included are certainly proud. Which is why the final score for “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is a 9 out of 10.