By Charles Kirkland Jr.
Tom Hanks does his best impression of the great Mr. Rogers in A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood.
A decorated magazine writer, Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) has been given the assignment of a lifetime. Jaded by a lifetime of interviewing frauds and phonies, Lloyd is unimpressed by the assignment which is little more than fluff piece about heroes. He is even more unimpressed that the subject of the interview is the beloved host of a children’s television show, Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks). Lloyd travels from New York to Pittsburgh to interview Mr. Rogers but somehow finds the tables turned and Lloyd opening up his life to Fred. Mystified, Lloyd believes that there has to be more to this simple man that what he is seeing.
First of all, Tom Hanks in no way looks like Fred Rogers but, he embodies the mannerisms and the voice of Mr. Rogers in a way that is totally convincing. As soon as he appears on the screen, he is Mister Rogers. It is a muted and even-tempered performance that is intricately executed and sublime. Hanks is a wonder in this role!
The movie is based upon the true story of the real-life friendship of Fred Rogers and a reported named Tom Junod. Junod is replaced by the fictional Lloyd Vogel but the story is the same. Junod was given the assignment to write on Mister Rogers and it developed into a book. Matthew Rhys plays Lloyd Vogel who has a problem with forgiveness, is given the assignment and writes a book.
Directed by Marielle Heller (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) from a screenplay by Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster (both from Maleficent: Mistress of Evil), A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood stars Rhys and Hanks along with delightful performances from Susan Kelechi Watson, Enrico Colantoni and Chris Cooper. Heller and crew are creative and imaginative in creating the movie as an episode of the famed television show, Mister Roger’s Neighborhood. Even more fun, the transition scenes are recreations of the set model transitions from the show!
Now for those of you who are expecting a movie about Mister Rogers, sorry, this movie is a bit of a bait-and-switch. The movie is a story about family, forgiveness, and love with Mister Rogers in it. The audience will discover some things about Fred Rogers but this is not a biopic. If you want to find out more about Rogers see the also wonderful documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? from last year. (Speaking of which, there is a tearfully beautiful scene in Neighborhood where a crowd of people on the subway sings the song to Mister Rogers to the wonderment of Lloyd.) The focus of this film is to show how healing can occur when emotions are addressed, a principle which Rogers addressed continually on his show.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is rated PG for some strong thematic material, a brief fight and some mild language. It is released on Sony’s Affirm label which means that the movie is cataloged as a Christian film. (Fred Rogers was an ordained minister.) While the film is not aggressively Christian like a Kendrick brothers film, Fred Rogers’ faith and commitment to God is clearly reflected in a way that even the most devout of atheists cannot complain.
There’s a scene where Lloyd’s wife, Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) asks him to not destroy her childhood. This movie will not only celebrate your childhood but honor Fred Rogers’ character in a delightful way. A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood is the family-friendly movie of the year.