I’m not one to speak about Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood because it was not a show that I watched growing up, yet I always felt that there was something special to be seen in the impact that he’s left behind on generations of viewers both while the show has been ongoing and even after its end in 2001. But to look at how far does the impact of Fred Rogers stretch, it’s already been stated in Morgan Neville’s documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, which turned out to be one among a few reasons I was somewhat skeptical for what Marielle Heller would bring to the table here. Yet as I sat there in the movie theater, I was only wondering how I’ve managed to go all these years with Fred Rogers missing from my life.
Based on Tom Junod’s Esquire article Can You Say… Hero?, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood tells the story of Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), a cynical journalist assigned to write a profile on Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks). Opening fittingly through the recreation of the aesthetic one would recognize from watching an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Marielle Heller’s film isn’t really one so much about Fred Rogers himself but the way in which he changed the lives of many, young or old. Taking the frame of reference from Junod’s own experience with Rogers, Marielle Heller takes what would be a basic biopic and turns it into a film detailing Mister Rogers’ legacy, even allowing that same impact to be shared to the unfamiliar viewers.
For many people who watched this show during the peak of his prime, Fred Rogers was so much more than just any other children’s entertainer. He was also a gateway for many to learn more about the world around them, for he always sought to bring out kindness everywhere he went, even inspiring the most unlikely of souls. As Heller draws upon Junod’s own experience meeting with Rogers to tell the story that she brings to the screen in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, it simply can’t be helped – you’re left there wondering what more could a man like Fred Rogers have done in your life had he been there. As demonstrated through a sequence where Rogers and Vogel board a subway, where the passengers break into song upon his sight, there’s always room for a man like Fred Rogers in one’s life, and it always feels so heartwarming too.
If anything helps make Marielle Heller’s portrait of the iconic entertainer more distinctive from most biopics that’d come around the same period of time, she doesn’t structure A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood as a biopic. The beautiful transitions between spaces, resembling the set pieces of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood are always so delightful to look back upon. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood doesn’t simply dwell upon everything that Rogers has accomplished in his life through how he formed a big portion of American history, but through Tom Hanks’s wonderful portrait of the iconic children’s entertainer, Heller does leave her viewers feeling a sense of nostalgia. Hanks’s perfect recreation of the childhood entertainer do so much more than just imitate his mannerisms, he always leaves behind a welcoming presence in the room and it helps make Heller’s film all the more welcoming.
What I find to be the most wonderful aspect of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood can be best summed up by the way in which Heller reminds you about how important it is to be empathetic towards others, no matter the differences around yourself, like Rogers inspired. Rather than presenting itself as a biopic of sorts, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood plays out akin to an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, interspersed with that of another story examining how even the most cynical outlooks on life can be changed for the better through such. Everything that’s to be said about Tom Hanks’s Rogers would be laid out already, yet Matthew Rhys also provides a somewhat relatable turn as the bitter Lloyd Vogel. Everything in his life already feels as if it is crumbling apart, yet there’s another journey to be found in discovering what’s missing – and Heller weaves both portions so wondrously.
Sometimes, we wish everything could be as simple as a walk through a beautiful day in the neighborhood in order to remind ourselves that maybe we can see those heroes in our lives. For many, Fred Rogers was not simply a children’s entertainer who managed to touch hearts through the puppet characters he brought to the screen but he was a hero. He was a man who only wanted to bring out kindness in a bitter world. When watching A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, there’s a part of me that also wonders how could one go for so long without something to spark our urge to be kind to those around ourselves. Maybe it wouldn’t be through Fred Rogers directly, but you just need to keep searching and soon enough it’ll come to you.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via TriStar Pictures.
Directed by Marielle Heller
Screenplay by Noah Harpster, Micah Fitzerman-Blue, from Can You Say… Hero? by Tom Junod
Produced by Youree Henley, Peter Saraf, Marc Turtletaub, Leah Holzer
Starring Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Susan Kelechi Watson, Chris Cooper
Release Date: November 22, 2019
Running Time: 107 minutes