Sometimes we need to be reminded there’s good in the world. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood effectively drives that point home, not with a sledgehammer but in the kindest and gentlest of ways. The 2019 potential awards contender is an engaging story about Fred Rogers, a man beloved by millions, and a journalist whose life was forever changed after being drawn into Fred’s world.
Fred Rogers genuinely loved people, a trait that’s not always found in the DNA of those in public life. He was sympathetic to those in need, lending a judgment-free ear before rendering a thoughtful response. Watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood felt like spending time with an old friend who knew just how you were feeling and uttered just the right words of encouragement.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood was inspired by journalist Tom Junod’s “Can You Say…Hero?” 1998 feature published in Esquire. The Americans’ Matthew Rhys stars as NY journalist Lloyd Vogel, the film’s version of Junod. Oscar winner Tom Hanks slips smoothly into the role of the iconic Fred Rogers, a casting choice that no doubt would have pleased the real Mister Rogers who passed away in 2003. (Hanks was Fred Rogers’ favorite actor.)
Like the article, the film examines the relationship that developed between a journalist assigned to write a short puff piece and Fred Rogers, the subject of the piece. Cynical and used to tackling darker subject matter, Lloyd was initially unwilling to believe the Mister Rogers on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood wasn’t just a character conceived and played by Fred Rogers.
From their very first encounter, Fred Rogers welcomed Lloyd into his life, instantly recognizing Lloyd as a man who was broken in some way and in need of a friend. Fred Rogers was a shining beacon of light and Lloyd initially refused to allow himself to be brought into that light. Lloyd was confused by what he ultimately came to understand was simply Fred’s innate goodness.
The film doesn’t rush to show Lloyd’s eventual transformation from skeptic to true believer in the fact Fred was the real deal: a genuine, empathetic gentleman. Lloyd, married with a child, didn’t have a loving relationship with his father. The two barely spoke, but kind words of advice from Fred Rogers helped turn that relationship around before it was too late.
Fred Rogers was a compassionate man who taught generations it’s not only okay to feel sad or angry but also normal to have such feelings. In the film, we witness how those teachings deeply affect the life of one man in particular.
Discussing the timeliness of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, director Marielle Heller said, “We are at a point where it feels like the divide, politically, is bigger than ever, it feels that way. I don’t know if that’s true, but there’s so much violence and there’s so much to be confused by, and to feel lost in. And I think finding and hearing Fred’s voice is really reassuring in these times. There’s something about his message that feels more important now than ever.”
Mister Rogers comforted millions of kids over the years and was willing to explore topics off-limits in standard children’s fare. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood urges us to be more like Mister Rogers in a world that tries to marginalize positive people while showcasing the negative.
MPAA Rating: PG for some strong thematic material, a brief fight, and some mild language
Running Time: 108 minutes
Release Date: November 22, 2019
Directed By: Marielle Heller
Supporting Cast: Susan Kelechi Watson, Chris Cooper, Maryann Plunkett, and Enrico Colantoni
Studio: TriStar Pictures