A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
by Hope Madden
My God, I love Fred Rogers.
I didn’t watch the show as a kid, preferring Under Dog, Scooby Doo and other dog-related animation. But the last time I cried, not from sadness but from gratitude and longing, was during Morgan Neville’s beautiful 2018 documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
I sobbed. In public.
When news reached the world that Mr. Rogers was due for a biopic, surely each of us realized in our own separate ways that Tom Hanks was A) perfect, and B) going to make us sob all over again.
No way that was just me.
Hanks doesn’t love Fred Rogers as much as he entirely accepts him, and that’s the magic of this performance. While the rest of us may look on Rogers and his deep, genuine and implausible goodness with suspicion or awe, it’s nearly impossible to accept him as one of us. Hanks does. He doesn’t plumb for human frailty, he takes Fred Rogers on Fred Rogers’s terms, and that’s why Tom Hanks has two Oscars already. His performance here is unerring, eerily so.
Truth be told, though, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is not really Fred’s story. Rather, Mr. Rogers is the transformative catalyst for cynical NY magazine writer Lloyd Vogel. Vogel is played by Matthew Rhys and loosely based on real-life journalist Tom Junod, whose Esquire article is the inspiration for the film.
Director Marielle Heller (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) structures the film much like an episode from Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, and that almost-surreal-but-not quality serves to underscore the absurdity of the situation as Lloyd sees it: Who is this guy? Is this really what he’s like?
That healthy skepticism and Rogers’s ability to break it down creates the thrust of the film, but it’s also a window for the audience to question, accept and then celebrate this lovely man.
With two films in two years, the late children’s programming icon is having quite a moment. It’s hard to be sad about that.