A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood Review: A Heartfelt Tribute to Mister Rogers’ Legacy
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is not a rote biography of the beloved children’s show icon, Fred Rogers. The film is based on an award-winning Esquire magazine profile about him, “Can You Say Hero?”, written by journalist Tom Junod in November 1998. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is the true story of how Mister Rogers helped the writer let go of his anger. He learned that forgiveness and compassion can be achieved, even under the most grievous circumstances. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is about facing the darkest parts of your soul and becoming cleansed in the process. It is an achingly poignant film.
Tom Hanks stars as the venerable Fred Rogers. The film plays out like an episode of the television show. Mister Rogers opens his front door, greets the audience warmly, and puts on his iconic red sweater and loafers. He goes to the picture board and shows a picture of journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys). He’s got a black eye, bruised face, and bandaged nose. Mister Rogers calmly explains that his dear friend instigated a fight. He asks the audience if they have ever felt angry enough to hit someone.
Lloyd Vogel is having a personal crisis. His sister (Tammy Blanchard) is getting married for the umpteenth time. She’s invited their alcoholic father (Chris Cooper), who abandoned them and their critically ill mother. It doesn’t help that his editor has assigned him a four hundred word fluff piece on Mister Rogers. Lloyd causes a fracas at the wedding. He’s embarrassed to meet Mister Rogers beaten up. He’s even more surprised when Mister Rogers takes a keen interest in what happened. A lifetime of bitterness and resentment had overtaken him. Lloyd needed a friend to help him face the challenge of forgiveness.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is powerfully dramatic. Director Marielle Heller (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) digs deep into Lloyd Vogel’s psyche and personal relationships. It’s a raw, gritty journey that will surely bring some to tears. The scenes between Matthew Rhys and Chris Cooper are riveting in their realism. Years of repressed pain erupts like a volcano between the characters. A reverse dynamic happens with the counseling of Mister Rogers. Lloyd Vogel refused to believe that a stranger could be so compassionate towards him. His search for a flaw in Fred Rogers forced a reckoning with his own shortcomings.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood gets top marks for style and creativity. Marielle Heller fully embraces the show’s concepts. The external scenes are done with the models on Mister Rogers’ set. You don’t see Lloyd fly to Pittsburgh or New York City for the interviews, just a model plane land. The supporting actors also play versions of characters on the show. The idea is to enforce the simplicity of the plot. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood is meant for everyone to understand. From young children to adults, the themes discussed are universal to human nature. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood has a well executed production design that flows in sync with the script.
Tom Hanks is wonderfully restrained and jovial as Fred Rogers. He is the calm in the storm, a pillar of strength for Lloyd to lean on. Chris Cooper and Matthew Rhys may find themselves in competition for the supporting actor awards. Their characters are relatable. Both men deliver sublime performances. They have an extreme conflict, but overcome their differences with love. It’s a message that seems hokey, but is desperately needed in these divided times.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a fantastic homage to the principles of Fred Rogers. It is a serious film with therapeutic values. It will play your heartstrings like a violin. Bring a hankie to this one. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a great companion piece to Morgan Neville’s excellent 2018 documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Fred Rogers certainly left a legacy of kindness and understanding. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a production of TriStar Pictures and Tencent Pictures with distribution by Sony.