A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood plays like a wonderfully trippy return to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, with powerful messages of hope embedded beneath Tom Hanks’ seamless performance of the legend, Fred Rogers.
Directed By, Marielle Heller, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood tells the real-life story of Fred Rogers and journalist Tom Junod. Inspired by the Esquire article, Can You Say…Hero?, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Heller puts together a story using interesting directing choices and the perfect amount of Mr. Rogers to tell the story of a jaded journalist. Playing Fred Rogers is Tom Hanks. The actor quickly starts to blur the lines between actor and part as he completely melts into the legendary children’s television host.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, at its core, is a story about human kindness prevailing overall. The story plays out like an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Everything from the opening sequence of Mr. Rogers singing Won’t You Be My Neighbor? to the closing moments were a one-to-one recreation of what show provided to audiences for several decades. The story of Tom Junod, renamed Lloyd Vogel for the film, is fully framed within an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, complete with the how it’s made videos in Picture Picture and a trip to The Neighborhood of Make-Believe. The film takes audiences in front of and behind the camera as you see a master at work. Despite that, the film does not make Rogers the primary character of the film, giving that title to Vogel and his family. As Vogel has become increasingly cynical, jaded and self-destructive, the opportunity to interview Mr. Rogers seemed like a chore, with the internal hope that Rogers is proven to be a fraud. Yet, as the film goes on, Fred Rogers’ influence starts to bleed into Vogel’s psyche.
Mr. Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood comes off almost like a superhero of sorts. His presence on screen is almost Christopher Reeve Superman-like. There is an immediate sense of gravitas and power that Mr. Rogers commanded in his real life and on-screen that is palpable for audiences and co-workers alike. The man was his own boss, did things his way and always chose kindness above all. It is hard to play an icon like Rogers, who had his own specific voice and mannerisms as he spoke directly to children for multiple generations, mine included. Yet, two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks felt like a natural fit for the part. Arguably one of his best performances in years, Hanks does a fascinating job completely blending in with Rogers. There are sequences with the man that break the fourth wall in fascinating ways. Heller tried many unique ways to make the world of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood realistic, yet with a touch of magic. Without getting into spoilers, there are certain steps that the film takes that truly takes it into the cinematic territory as much as it packages itself as a biopic. Much like how the series had Rogers directly speak to the audience, with his personal goal being to speak to each child individually, the film does the same, this time speaking to general audiences, most of them being adults.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood does not shy away from being a film targeted at adults. For those who watched Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood at any point as a child, they would range anywhere from their 20s to their 50s right now. The world is more cynical than ever and the life of Tom Junod is not as foreign at first glance. Because of this, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood plays like a shot of hope and optimism in the hearts of audiences. While Fred Rogers is no longer with us, his message was timeless, his goal is still achievable and his impact on the lives of the people who watched his show is everlasting. The film does not tell a story centered on Mr. Rogers as a character going through an arc, he is the only piece of the film that is a constant, that does not change. Rather, he changes others, particularly, Tom Junod, and in turn, others around him. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood does not shy away from being a film targeted at adults.
Overall, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a story about the power of kindness outlasting cynicisms, forgiveness over hatred, and acceptance over rejection. The film is carried by a masterful performance by Tom Hanks as he steps into the sweater and shoes of the legendary Fred Rogers.