A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood is a 2019 biographical drama film directed by Marielle Heller. The screenplay is written by Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster. The film is inspired by a 1998 Esquire article “Can You Say … Hero?” by Tom Junod. The film stars Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Susan Kelechi Watson, and Chris Cooper. It follows the story of a cynical journalist, Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys).
The journalist is asked to write an article on the kind and friendly television presenter Fred Rogers. Along the course of writing the article and interviewing, Lloyd strikes an unlikely friendship with Mr. Rogers.
The film was first premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 7, 2019. It hit theatres in the United States on November 22, 2019. The film went on to become a critical and commercial success. The film grossed a total of $68 million against a budget of $25 million. It was positively received by the critics who lauded Tom Hanks’ and Matthew Rhys’ incredible performances. Heller’s direction also gained heaps of praises. The reviews mostly talk about the kind and heart-warming messages that the film conveys. For his great performance as the benevolent Mr. Rogers, Tom Hanks went on to be nominated for a bunch of awards. He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor category and also bagged a Golden Globes nomination.
Cynicism meets Kindness
A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood starts with an Esquire journalist Lloyd Vogel. He is known for his cynicism in his writing. We soon find out where his cynicism is borne out. It is his sister Lorraine’s wedding, and he goes to attend it, along with his wife Andrea and his son Gavin. Amidst the reception, he encounters his father and starts a fist-fight with him, enraged over his deceased mother. We discover that Jerry, Lloyd’s estranged father, had cheated on his mother and abandoned them.
Later, the editor at Esquire magazine assigns Lloyd with an assignment. He has to go and interview the famous children’s television presenter Fred Rogers and write a 400-word article. As we already know, Lloyd isn’t quite amicable towards the whole “father” business; he isn’t quite jovial about the assignment. Anyway, he travels to the WQED studio in Pittsburgh for the interview. He finds that Rogers is quite indifferent to his fame. He is instead concerned about Lloyd’s nose injury. Lloyd converses with Rogers and talks about his fight with his father. He tells him how he hasn’t accepted his father’s apology and attempts to reconcile. Rogers tells Lloyd about the various ways in which one can deal with anger. One of them being punching the keys of a piano.
Lloyd confronts his father and contends with repressed trauma.
Lloyd doesn’t buy Rogers’ whole persona. He believes that this whole friendly act is a spiel and wants to expose his true self. And so Lloyd sets out to binge several episodes of Fred’s show to catch on to some clue. However, he is unable to find anything that supports his perceived notion. He again interviews Rogers, this time in New York. During the interview, Rogers mostly doesn’t address the questions. Instead, he recalls how he raised his two sons. He starts asking Lloyd about his childhood with his father and the stuffed toys he played with. This leads to Lloyd ending the interview.
After the abruptly ended interview, Lloyd heads home. There, he finds Jerry and his girlfriend Dorothy taking with his wife, Andrea. Lloyd gets furious again and engages in a verbal spat. Lloyd rebukes his father for cheating on his mother. He insults Jerry for abandoning him and his mother when she was dying of cancer. He then orders Jerry to get out of his home, but Jerry suffers a heart attack. Jerry is then transported to a hospital.
Learning to forgive
At the hospital, Lloyd refuses to stay overnight with the family and instead heads back to Pittsburgh to meet Rogers. He reaches there but, due to exhaustion, faints and collapses on the set. We get to look at his dream about his repressed childhood trauma. In his dream, Lloyd finds himself being a part of one of Mr. Rogers’ episodes. He is playing a downsized character wearing rabbit ears. Rogers and Andrea are there, as is his deceased mother, Lila.
Lloyd is then brought to Rogers and Joanne’s home. There, he collects himself and recovers. Later, both Rogers and Lloyd go to a restaurant and have a conversation. Rogers asks Lloyd to think about the people who gave him birth. He encourages him to forgive Jerry. Lloyd heads home and apologizes to Andrea for leaving her and Gavin at the hospital. He then goes to Jerry’s and Dorothy’s home. There he discovers that his father is dying of Cardiac Stenosis. He learns that this is why his father meant to make amends and reconcile.
Lloyd forgives Jerry. He also promises him to be a better father to his son, Gavin. Lloyd then goes on to write an exhaustive article on Rogers and how he impacted his life. Rogers, Lloyd’s sister Lorraine and her husband come to visit Jerry. Rogers asks Jerry to pray before he dies. Jerry passes, and Lloyd’s 10,000 words article is published as the magazine’s cover story. Rogers shoots his final take of an episode. After the filming is wrapped, we see him playing the piano calmly by himself.
Stellar performances in A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood
A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood is every bit warm as the real-life Fred Rogers was. Tom Hanks gives an outstanding performance as Rogers, bringing that trademark benevolence and kindness. He does a tremendous job at playing Rogers convincingly. Hanks was able to get the mannerisms down to a great deal of accuracy as well. One of the reasons Hanks’ performance as Mr. Rogers works so well is also because of the similarities both share. Fred Rogers and Tom Hanks are two celebrities that are known and liked for their friendly personas. Tom plays the role with a slowed and subdued cadence that matches Rogers’ mannerisms and body language.
Matthew Rhys has done a brilliant job at playing the cynical journalist. Throughout the film, his interactions with Mr. Rogers make for the best moments. He finds his cynicism diminished with every conversation he has with Fred. Rhys is convincing as a jaded journalist, full of cynicism and repressed childhood trauma. His character Lloyd is loosely based on the journalist Tom Junod – who wrote the famous Esquire article. It is his several encounters with Rogers that is the main focus of the film. It is so interesting to see Rhys’ Lloyd resisting and then succumbing to Roger’s kindness. He comes at him with cynicism but submits and opens up about his son, childhood, and father.
The classic show and a great adaptation
The real-life show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood ran on American TV from 1968 to 2001. It was a gentle and thoughtful children’s show teaching the kids about talking and thinking about their feelings. The show was hosted by the deeply caring and a bundle of warmth, Fred Rogers. It used colorful puppets from the “Neighborhood of Make-believe.” Another segment of the show was when Rogers went around the neighborhood and talked to people. The show went on to become a children’s classic and revered by people of all ages. It also made Mr. Rogers into a national treasure which still keeps inspiring the children and adults too.
The film is both a nostalgic deep dive into many people’s childhood friend Mr. Rogers and his heart-warming show. The film manages to emulate the same kind-heartedness along with a story of grief and forgiveness. Many of the sequences and scenes are directly lifted off of the show’s episodes and Junod’s interactions with Rogers. The interactions between Rogers and Lloyd play out as therapeutic sessions. As Lloyd opens up about his life, Rogers gives valuable lessons in kindness and connecting with people. In contemporary times, where cynicism has become a part of the daily routine, the film is a warm reminder of compassion.
You can stream the film on Prime Video.