A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, rated PG
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood follows 2018’s excellent (and superior) documentary about Fred Rogers, also known as “Mr. Rogers”, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? The new film, inspired by the real-life friendship between Fred Rogers and Esquire magazine journalist Tom Junod, is well acted and has several positive messages, but is also slow and more melancholy than you might expect.
The film is directed by Marielle Heller (Can You Ever Forgive Me?), and written by Emmy nominee Micah Fitzerman-Blue (Transparent), and Emmy nominee Noah Harpster (Transparent). The film is based on the Esquire magazine article “Can You Say….’Hero’? by Tom Junod.
Lloyd Vogel (the fictitious name for the Tom Junod character), played by two-time Golden Globe nominee Matthew Rhys (The Americans), is a cynical Esquire magazine writer, who normally writes hard-hitting investigative articles. In 1998, Vogel is assigned by Ellen, his editor, played by Oscar winner Christine Lahti (Lieberman in Love), to write a 400-word piece on Fred Rogers, played by two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump, Philadelphia), for the magazine’s issue on heroes. She states that writing the piece will help Vogel’s reputation for being too hard on his subjects.Susan Kelechi Watson (This is Us) portrays Vogel’s wife Andrea, and they have a young son. Andrea watched Mister Rogers Neighborhood as a child, and has wonderful memories of him. Lloyd has a lot of dysfunction in his family life, and has a particularly difficult relationship with his heavy drinking father Jerry, played by Oscar winner Chris Cooper (Adaptation).
Vogel travels to Pittsburgh where Rogers tapes his children’s program to interview Rogers. But it quickly becomes clear to Vogel that Rogers is actually interviewing him as much as he is interviewing Rogers. It also appears that Rogers is every bit the nice guy that he portrays on his television program, as he takes a personal interest in Lloyd. Much of the film focuses on the conversations between these two very different people and the positive influence Rogers has on Vogel’s life.
Themes in the film include family dysfunction, goodness, kindness, forgiveness, reconciliation, father/son relationships, illness, prayer and love. Content concerns include a small amount of adult language.
The film has a strong cast, and features excellent acting performances, particularly by Hanks, Rhys and Cooper. Maryann Plunkett portrays Rogers’ wife Joanne. The musical score is by Nate Heller (Can You Ever Forgive Me?). The film uses models of cities and neighborhoods similar to those used for the children’s program throughout, usually as segues to a new scene or location. The film also creatively uses actual footage of Hanks, replacing the real Fred Rogers on television programs with Oprah Winfrey and Arsenio Hall.
Although the film is about Fred Rogers, star of the children’s program Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, this is certainly not a film for children. The film is primarily about the relationship between a father and a son and the impact of Fred Rogers on the son and ultimately the relationship between the father and son. The film is “inspired by a true story”, with the main narrative of the film largely fictional. However, throughout the film are scenes that are lifted directly from the Junod’s Esquire magazine article, including a few of the most unbelievable ones.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a well-acted film inspired by a true story that has several positive messages, but it is also moves slowly, and is more melancholy than expected.