A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Directed by Marielle Heller best known for 2018’s Can You Ever Forgive Me?, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a beautifully affecting and bittersweet movie about the beloved children’s television host Fred Rogers and his relationship with a journalist that shows exactly how Mr. Rogers positively affected those he touched personally and on television. Unexpectedly, the movie focuses much more on the emotional evolution of the fictional journalist Lloyd Vogel, played by Matthew Rhys best known for his role on the TV series The Americans, who is somewhat of a curmudgeon but is told by the editor of Esquire magazine to do a short profile of Fred Rogers. The character Lloyd is actually based on the real-life Esquire writer Tom Junod who wrote an 1998 article that the movie is based. Lloyd sees himself as a serious journalist who is coping with the new reality of being a father to a newborn baby and is hesitant to interview someone like Fred Rogers who Lloyd the skeptic believes is disingenuous. Eventually, he goes to Pittsburgh to the set of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood at the PBS television station WQED in order to interview Rogers for an issue of Esquire about heroes. Lloyd is taken aback by Fred Rogers, played brilliantly by the nice guy of Hollywood Tom Hanks, who is exactly like he is on television, a wonderful human being too humble to be called a hero. Throughout his time interviewing Mr. Rogers on several different occasions, Lloyd is struggling with the reappearance of his estranged father Jerry, played by Chris Cooper, and wants nothing to do with him since he left his sick mother years ago. The real purpose of the movie is to show how Lloyd eventually comes around to make amends with his father as a result of the the advice given to him by Mr. Rogers who teaches him to forgive and care for family and friends even when they may be troubled themselves. Rogers himself admits to not being a perfect person as everybody believes him to be and even admits to having difficult relationships with his two sons. The filmmaker quite effectively depicts Fred Rogers through a single episode of his kindness towards another character who needs help, rather than the traditional biopic that may not have given a truly personal story that would resonate with the audience. Other terrific filmmaking decisions were to include models of cities and puppets as they were in the original show, as well as using similar video cameras from the real Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood to recreate scenes from the television show. Overall, I found it to be an uplifting movie that captures the true spirit of such a down-to-earth man of values as Fred Rogers, primarily as a result of the intimate script and perfect casting of Tom Hanks. Yes, the film does have sad moments as the emotionally distant Lloyd tries to come to terms with his family situation while receiving invaluable moral guidance from Mr. Rogers.

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