Mister Rogers is a household name. Last year’s documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, was heartwarming and endearing. This year we get a dramatization of Mister Rogers, but the film may not be what you’re expecting. Of course there are plenty of heartwarming moments in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, but if you’re going into the film expecting the main focus to be on Fred Rogers, you may be in for a bit of a surprise. Find out more in our full review of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.
It’s important to note that while A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood does cover a specific time in Fred Roger’s life, it’s based on the true events that led to the friendship between Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks) and Esquire magazine investigative reporter, Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys). While the film is inspired by real events, Lloyd Vogel is a fictional character that is loosely based on the real journalist and friend of the late Fred Rogers, Tom Junod.
There are many points in the film which deal more with Lloyd Vogel than Fred Rogers. It’s to the point where it’s not a stretch to say A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a film about Lloyd Vogel befriending Fred Rogers, rather than to say this is a film about Fred Rogers. This isn’t a wonderful trip down memory lane with Fred Rogers, it’s actually a deep struggle of Lloyd Vogel coming to terms with his estranged father, a lost mother, and his own growing family.
It’s strange to say that Fred Rogers almost feels like an ancillary character in a film titled, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, but that is the case. Nevertheless, there’s enough Fred Rogers in the film to trigger that warm feeling in your chest. Tom Hanks plays Fred Rogers to perfection. Never once do you feel as though you’re watching Tom Hanks playing a character. Every moment that features Fred Rogers, you feel as though you’re watching the real deal. The effects team even went as far as to digitally include Tom Hanks into some of the real life interviews Fred Rogers had, such as his appearance on The Arsenio Hall Show. The effect is so seamless that you wouldn’t know it’s fake otherwise.
The heartwarming aspects of Fred Rogers actually makes some of the Lloyd Vogel portions of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood hard to watch. Every scene with Rogers is endearing, but there are long portions of the film that focus almost exclusively on Vogel. These parts of the movie are sometimes very dark as the character battles with his family relationships. It’s a stark contrast to what you might expect from a film about Fred Rogers. That doesn’t make the movie any less desirable, but a vast majority of the marketing is centered around Fred Rogers, which makes the film seem a bit deceptive from that point of view.
Even if you go into A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood expecting a film about Fred Rogers’ life, you won’t be disappointed with what you actually get. The darker points of the film make Fred Rogers’ efforts all the more sincere. Tom Hanks shines as the character as it’s near impossible not to smile every time he’s on the screen. Lloyd Vogel is a character that’s easy to hate early in the film, but watching Fred Rogers interact with him gives meaning to his life and the film. There are few people in this world more endearing than Fred Rogers, and that is perfectly depicted in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.
Score: 4 out of 5
Plot: Based on the true story of a real-life friendship between Fred Rogers and journalist Tom Junod.
Genre: Biography, Drama
Director: Marielle Heller
Writers: Micah Fitzerman-Blue, Noah Harpster
Stars: Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Chris Cooper
Length: 1 Hour, 48 Minutes