How could they make a movie about Mr. Rogers? Is there some untold story? Was he different in real life? Did he have secrets the world never knew about? What could this movie tell us that we didn’t already know about Mr. R? Where’s the conflict?
Well, the film A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood does focus on a guy who has lots of conflict in his life. But it’s a magazine writer Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) who has issues (pun intended), not Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks).
The real-life Mr. Rogers was a genuinely nice guy who had a special connection with his young viewers, as was shown in the 2018 documentary about him (Won’t You Be My Neighbor?). In this new film, which is “inspired by true events,” Rogers connects with and counsels the adult, Lloyd, who has come to profile him for Esquire.
Tom Hanks is, yes, a bit chunkier than Fred Rogers was. But Hanks has that nice guy image and is an apt choice for the role. His big smile is a bit unnatural compared to the real Mr. Rogers’ smile, but at least he tries.
Hanks is at his best when he slows down the pace of the movie and, in one case, pauses silently for several seconds before continuing. He delivers guidance to the journalist but he also… listens!
Is Hanks’ performance Oscar-worthy? He’s not a shoo-in, but he should be in the mix for consideration.
Credit goes to the writers Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Hapster along with director Marielle Heller for structuring a film that imitates a real Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood episode. The Pittsburgh and New York City skylines are represented by miniatures similar to those used on the Neighborhood show.
The cast also includes Chris Cooper as Lloyd’s estranged dad and Susan Kelechi Watson as Lloyd’s wife.
A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood is a true feel-good movie with several scenes that will bring a smile. If you and/or your kids watched Mr. Rogers on TV, this story will touch your soul. If you are less familiar with Fred Rogers and his show, you will still appreciate the humanity and sweetness of the man.