“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” stars Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Susan Kelechi Watson, and Chris Cooper. Released on November 22, 2019, the film is about a journalist who is assigned to write a profile piece on Fred Rogers.
The film is directed by Marielle Heller, who also directed “The Diary of a Teenage Girl” and “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”. It is based on the Esquire article Can You Say…Hero? by Tom Junod. There are plenty of people in this world that are kind and full of love, but no one can come close to the amount of kindness that one man had inside his soul. That man is none other than Fred Rogers, the creator and host of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” as well as the most kind-hearted person on the planet. It somehow amazes me that this one guy had so much empathy and warmth to inspire millions to look at life differently. Too bad he’s not in our lives anymore because we could really use his inspiration right about now. This film isn’t the first time Hollywood took audiences to the world of Fred Rogers. Last year, filmmaker Morgan Neville created a documentary centering on Rogers’ life and his show titled “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”. I was able to see that movie with my mother and my grandmother, and I thought it was great enough for me to name it my second-favorite film of 2018. This year, director Marielle Heller will be displaying her take on the iconic host and how his act of kindness changed the world. So far, I was quite impressed with Heller’s last two films in her filmography, especially “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”, which I happened to watch at home a while ago. Can she impress me again with her Fred Rogers biopic?
Instead of chronicling the entire life of Fred Rogers, the film takes the “Saving Mr. Banks” route by centering on the unexpected relationship between Rogers (Hanks) and Lloyd Vogel (Rhys), a rough journalist who is loosely based on Tom Junod, a journalist from Esquire. Yes, I did reference “Saving Mr. Banks”, another fact-based drama starring Hanks, because it somehow reminded me of that film. You got the main character who’s a bit of a grouch, and you got Tom Hanks as the nicest guy around who changed that character’s life with his kindness and inspiration. It’s a strange comparison for me to make, but I couldn’t help but mention it. It’s easy to explore Rogers and the people he inspired in a documentary format, but showcasing him in a motion picture format is a different story. The way I see it, this is something that’s very precious to those who grew up watching Fred Rogers, and the reactions from them would be truly chaotic if it’s not handled correctly. Luckily for us, it was handled in the best possible way. Much like “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is a heartwarming and passionate perspective on how one man’s kindheartedness inspired someone to be a friendly neighbor to those around them. The story is basically the experience of meeting Fred Rogers from the point-of-view of someone who doesn’t see him the way everybody does and is internally in pain. Some can say that it’s sentimental, others can say that it’s sweet. Personally, I prefer the term “thoughtful”. It’s the type of thoughtful that touches one’s heart and comforts them until they feel good about themselves. Thanks to Marielle Heller’s direction, the film offered a perfect blend of emotion and warmth that didn’t try to shove its relatable messages down the audience’s throats, which is quite impressive for a PG-rated biopic. Yes, the film is actually rated PG (surprise, surprise), but that doesn’t mean it’s suitable for kids. In terms of the pacing and its themes, the young ones might feel a bit uncomfortable with this one. I think the best way to introduce a new generation of kids to Fred Rogers without all of the dramatic stuff is the “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” show itself. Other than that, I would consider this as a respectable option for the older kids. The only part of the story that I thought was interesting was how it was told. It’s told in a way that you would usually see in an episode of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” when it comes to the structure. You have the classical music, the happy-go-lucky tone, the introduction to the topics, and the practical sets that are used for specific transitions. The aspect ratio changes were a bit odd at first, but I got used to them later on. It was quite impressive from a narrative standpoint, and it’s also nostalgic for people who grew up watching the show. This is one of the things that represent how much the filmmakers care about making a film that honors Rogers’ legacy. The other being Tom Hanks’ fantastic performance. If there's an opponent for Joaquin Phoenix that might threaten his chance to earn himself an Oscar win, that opponent would be Hanks. Everything about his role just screams “Fred Rogers”, including his mannerisms and his calming tone. There’s literally no one that can portray him better than Hanks. Matthew Rhys also did a great job with his performance as Lloyd Vogel. Some people might have a hard time following him as the main character due to him being a jerk, but the film handled this character in a way that’s both tolerable and relatable. Lloyd is the source of the film’s main themes, such as forgiveness and understanding. Its portrayal of its themes had that “feel-good” feeling that’s not overly sentimental nor heavily hokey. It’s well-balanced and comfortable. I also thought the musical score by Nate Heller was very generous. It had that classical, upbeat feel to it that clearly resembled the positive tone of the show and Fred Rogers himself.
Overall, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is the perfect resemblance to Fred Rogers: kindhearted, warm, and more importantly, neighborly. This is another thought-provoking and sweetly poetic experience that honors the legacy of Rogers and will continue to do so for generations. From the performances (particularly Hanks) to the emotional storytelling, the film has the right ingredients to be the best neighbor that everybody needed right now. In this day and age, this is an exemplary reminder for us to put aside our pettiness and be kind to one another. No more violence, no more stupidity, no more hate. Just throw that negative stuff out the window and show the world that an act of kindness can make our lives better. If you’re familiar with Fred Rogers and are in need of something positive, it’s definitely worth checking out.