Updated: Dec 5, 2019
The heartening tale of a jaded writer becoming friends with Fred Rogers is a wonderful time for the whole family.
By Gabriel Arizon, Editor-in-Chief
“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” tells the heartwarming story of the relationship between a cynical writer and one of TV’s most beloved icons. It is filled with uplifting and positive messages that Fred Rogers himself taught to kids for decades and that are just as relevant today. The nearly perfect imitation of Rogers by Tom Hanks combined with the vulnerability displayed by Matthew Rhys make this film one of the most wholesome movies of the year.
Based on the story from a 1998 Esquire article by Tom Junod titled Can You Say … Hero?, the movie follows award-winning magazine writer Lloyd Vogel (Rhys) as he is tasked with writing a profile piece on Rogers for an upcoming issue about heroes. Due to his extremely strained relationship with his father, Vogel is left embittered, a fact that is reflected in his writing. Other celebrities do not want to speak to him due to his reputation of putting his subjects in a negative light, with Rogers being the sole outlier.
Vogel begrudgingly accepts the assignment and approaches Rogers with a hint of cynicism in his tone and questions. However, through numerous interviews and gentle prodding by Rogers into his personal life, Vogel begins to open up and experience first-hand how one man’s kindness was able to reach millions of people.
Rhys does a great job portraying Vogel’s bottled-up anger towards his father and the emotional walls he has set up around himself that keep him from expressing his feelings, as well as his vulnerable side when those defenses are laid bare.
Hanks’ performance as the kind-hearted Rogers is almost pitch perfect and is easily the highlight of the film. Hanks manages to get down the appearance, mannerisms, soft-spoken tone and calming aura that made Rogers such a pivotal figure for children and adults. The way he greets and connects with people on a daily basis is a joy to see, and the caring relationship he forms with Vogel as he helps to teach him valuable life lessons results in a couple tear-jerking moments. Though the voice may not match the original, it is clear that no one else could have played the TV icon nearly as well as Hanks.
The film’s respect for Rogers goes beyond just Hanks’ portrayal, as it also pays plenty of tribute to the iconic show. When the movie transitions from place to place, it cleverly uses miniature sets and props that look like they were taken straight from his show. There are even some parts where the picture quality is given a grainy texture reminiscent of 1990s TV, making it appear as if the audience is watching another episode of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”
Though the title is a reference to a line in the show’s opening song, this film is not about Rogers himself. While he may be the highlight of the movie, he is sometimes seen as the side character to Vogel and his struggles in regards to his emotions and his family. It certainly makes for a good story, but Hanks’ wonderful acting makes it hard to not ask for Rogers to be on-screen more often.
“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” works for both fans of Rogers and those who may not have ever heard of him. Its themes and lessons are easily understandable for kids, while the personal and family drama is enough to keep adults engaged. Hanks is a delight whenever he is on screen and Rhys delivers his own endearing performance throughout. Those looking for heartwarming, good time need to look no further.