Growing up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania myself, Mister Rogers Neighborhood was a staple in my home. It was one of the few things that I could watch and my parents knew it was about as wholesome as it could be. Fred Rogers was known to mill around the people of Pittsburgh without an entourage, security or even with his own family. He loved people and helping them, even if they were strangers. In fact, what you saw with Fred Rogers is exactly what you got. He was every bit the same person behind the camera as he was in front. No where is that more evident in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, with Tom Hanks playing Fred Rogers.
His performance is so good, I had to remind myself that it was Tom Hanks and not the man, himself. The film tells the true story of Mr. Rogers and his relationship with Lloyd Vogel ( Matthew Rhys). In actuality, the real man Lloyd Vogel is based on it real reporter for Esquire Magazine, Tom Junod whose article “Can You Say….Hero?” is considered one of the all time great articles in magazine publishing (the article also ran in The Atlantic magazine, as well) . At over ten thousand words, it went from being a filler piece to the lead cover as a friendship was created between the two men. It was not always so friendly, at first.
I don’t know how much of Mr. Junod’s actual backstory actually made it into this film. Lloyd Vogel’s character has a very confrontational relationship with his father, Jerry (Chris Cooper). Jerry was always a disappointment to Lloyd. He left Lloyd and the family when they were young and their mother died, while Jerry was out carousing around with numerous women. Lloyd has never forgotten or forgiven Jerry for that. When Lloyd is given the assignment of interviewing Mr. Rogers by his publisher, Ellen (Christine Lahti) he is dumbfounded. Why? “Don’t expect me to go soft on him because he handles puppets!” Lloyd quips. Little does Lloyd know just how this story will change his life.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a terrific film. Sad, poignant, touching, some clever touches of humor all add up to make this film a very special one. It shows just how real Fred Rogers was and that what you saw is what you got. He was every bit as genuine in front of the camera as he was in public. He was a very spiritual man being an ordained Presbyterian minister who swam laps every day. He was a gentle, kind, caring soul who truly loved people and Hanks really is astonishingly true to Mr. Rogers and his persona. The relationship he has with Lloyd is rocky at first. But Lloyd begins to see how patient and unfeigned Mr. Rogers is and begins to lose his negativity.
Matthew Rhys is a Welch actor who starred with real life wife, Keri Russell in The Americans and Rhys can be seen in the upcoming Perry Mason reboot on HBO. I had never seen him act in anything but I am a fan, now. Rhys is tremendous as Lloyd. He plays him with the right amount of cynical loathing of life, in general. Complete with a five o’clock shadow, Rhys’ Vogel is a broken soul, fraught with despair and sadness but Rhys does not over sell it. So when he changes his outlook at life, you not only believe his transformation but you rejoice in it, as well. With the support from his loving wife and mother of his child, Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson who is also brilliant, here) Lloyd makes quite a journey.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood was one of 2019’s best films. It is a quiet and moving film about family, forgiveness, mercy, faith and love. Fred Rogers is gone, now and there will never be another one like him. He was as special as he thought everyone else was. Director Marielle Heller and writers Micah Fitzman-Blue and Noah Harpster have really nailed who and what Fred Rogers was and why he was loved by just about everyone. They show how and why he touched so many lives, even to this day. This is a family film that will bring the family together even closer and make people appreciate each other a little more. Not many films can make that claim today and NO, Fred Rogers was never a sniper in the military.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood – ***** out of 5
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood – Rated PG for some language and adult situations
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood – Run time is 109 minutes
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is now available on DVD, On Demand and subscription services.