Dan's Review: "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" captures the kindness of Fred Rogers
Nov 22, 2019 01:36AM
By Dan Metcalf
Tom Hanks and Matthew Rhys in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood - © 2019 Sony/Tristar.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Sony/Tristar)
Rated PG for some strong thematic material, a brief fight, and some mild language.
Starring Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Susan Kelechi Watson, Chris Cooper, Enrico Colantoni, Maryann Plunkett, Tammy Blanchard, Wendy Makkena, Carmen Cusack, Noah Harpster, Maddie Corman, Christine Lahti.
Written by Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster, based on the Esquire Magazine article "Can You Say... Hero?" by Tom Junod.
Directed by Marielle Heller.
I used to be angry at Fred Rogers. He was that one guy who made me wait for Sesame Street in the morning because I loved those Muppets with their funny voices my sister and I so often imitated. Wait, I did through every episode of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood that preceded the Muppets, yet, the same thing happened as I “endured” that nerdy fellow’s soft chats and puppet shows. After every episode, I felt a little happier, a little more confident in myself, a little less alone, a little less fearful, and less ashamed of the scars of my childhood, because that sweet man touched my heart, as I know he touched so many other kids through the lens of a studio camera. This process of love and kindness is at the heart of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, a new film based on a magazine profile of Rogers.
Tom Hanks stars as Mr. Rogers, the children’s TV show host who counseled with the masses of kids for more than three decades in the “Land of Make-believe” on PBS. When Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) is assigned to pen a few hundred words about Rogers for a special Esquire edition on heroes, he travels to Pittsburgh to meet and interview Fred. Lloyd’s reputation as a jaded journalist is preceded by a difficult childhood, being abandoned by his alcoholic and philandering father Jerry (Chris Cooper) and the premature death of his mother. With a family of his own, including an infant child and his wife Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson), Lloyd brings a lot of emotional baggage to his first meeting with Fred, who embraces him with kindness and empathy. Lloyd soon realizes that he’s the one being interviewed, with Mr. Rogers’ covert intent of rescuing him from his own demons and helping him to forgive his father and himself. Hanging around Mr. Rogers also injects the hopeless cynic with a new sense of humanity and a renewed purpose as a father and husband.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a wonderful film that captures the finer qualities of Fred Rogers and his influence for good on everyone. While the story of “Lloyd” is fictional (loosely based the Esquire article by Tom Junod), the spirit of what Mr. Rogers stood for is authentic, with many scenes taken from actual moments in his life, including the time he rode on the New York City Subway during which several children serenaded him with his show’s theme song, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor.” Tom Hanks’ performance as the iconic TV friend to all children is as good as any in his distinguished career and should summon plenty of postseason awards consideration.
Besides Hanks’ portrayal, there are other distinctive qualities in the movie, including the miniature models used in the opening, transitionary, and closing scenes of the TV show. By showing small cars, planes, trolleys and other geographic features of Pittsburgh and New York City, the audience is able to relate to the story within their own “Land of Make-believe.” It’s a brilliant device that signals the audience to enter a peaceful, whimsical state of mind where a kind, non-judgmental man hears and understands them.
Perhaps the most important part of Mr. Roger's life wasn’t just what he taught generations of children, but how those children were able to carry those happy feelings into adulthood. I know as I reminisce about the Mr. Rogers of my childhood, I can glean a lot of truth that is relevant to my life as a father and grandfather. I’m especially reminded of my capacity to love and be loved in a contemporary world that seems dedicated to embracing hate, darkness and the things that divide us. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood and the kindness it represents is exactly what this world needs.
"A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" Trailer