It’s a shame Fred Rogers is only widely known to American because I think he would have fitted in quite well with UK TV. I suppose you could say the UK equivalent of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was Jim’ll Fix It, but the less said about that the better. So, to see the genuine article of kindness made A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood one of the more pleasant films to be released in this early year.
There’s a certain amount of righteousness that one of the kindest actors in Hollywood Tom Hanks was to play one of the kindest people on American TV. Hanks goes all-in in this role and my goodness does it pay off, it baffles the mind how close he can come to mimicking the general movements and gentle tone of Fred Rogers right down to him throwing his shoe. His performance also baffles audiences as they study his generosity and question how anyone can be that caring and comforting to others. I guess what I was looking for the most however was Hanks’ ability to get the message that Mr. Rogers genuinely cared for people and he confirms this the moment he starts to sing the Mister Rogers Neighborhood theme.
The film itself is based on a profile piece in Esquire magazine written by Tom Junod who has been replaced in this film with the fictional Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), a deeply conflicted character with his frustrations aimed at his relationship with his father Jerry (Chris Cooper). This is Lloyds story which may be odd to anyone expecting some sort of biopic of Mr. Rogers, maybe the man on and off the camera retrospective, but the personality on camera is the same off the camera and it’s Lloyd’s journey to understanding that which is the most entertaining exploration in the film.
The narrative takes place as though you were inside a Mister Rogers Neighborhood episode and the production designers have done a remarkable job in replicating the sets you see in the show as well as the model of the neighborhood. What’s even more remarkable is that the models aren’t there for a singular purpose, whenever a character is traveling from one place to another, more than often the film will show this by using the model neighborhood and city, I think it’s magnificent that the film keeps up the assumption that this story is taking place in an episode of the show, I think it’s a great detail that pushes the imagination and quaintness of Fred Rogers.
It still amazes me how Tom Hanks manages to easily embody Mr. Rogers perfectly, there is one scene that I was really surprised by how powerful it was and how easily it engages the audience. Lloyd and Mr. Rogers are in a restaurant and Mr. Rogers asks him to think about the people who “loved him into being”, not just Jerry but the whole restaurant falls silent. The scene even lasts for a minute in real-time. But as impressive as it sounds, the film takes it to an extra step as Mr. Rogers looks directly at the camera, and at you. What a fantastic technique to get audiences involved in the film’s events. I’d be very interested in a poll to see how many people during that scene felt better about themselves.
You get so blindsided by the overall loveliness of the film; you hardly walk away thinking the film could have done better. However, I stand by what I said early about the film not being a biopic. I think the amount of Mr. Rogers we get maybe a little dissatisfactory to said people, but those people are also going to be the ones who never even think of that when walking out of the cinema.
This could have been a very different experience if the film went for an overly innocent approach, but that way I believe would be disrespectful to a huge chunk of Mr. Rogers’ legacy as he was able to discuss darker topics to children in an honest way, he would never talk down to them. However, the film isn’t that completely ridden of overly innocent moments. I think that some people might be able to point out how cutesy the film can become sometimes when we’ve immediately witnessed a scene that felt very mature.
You know when you see a film and the reviews say something along the lines of “A must-see with the whole family” but really, it’s only targeted at children. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is one of those few films that I really feel earns that opinion, so I’m going to say it here. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a must-see for the whole family. Tom Hanks earns his Oscar nomination, and the film should have earned a whole lot more.
Final Result: 9/10 – Excellent
Have you seen A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood? What did you think? Please let me know your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.
Next Time: Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn