A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a heart-warming film, starring Tom Hanks as beloved American children’s television presenter Fred Rogers. The film itself is inspired by the 1998 Esquire article ‘Can You Say…Hero?’ by Tom Junod. It’s the latest film by director Marielle Heller and the follow up to the critically acclaimed Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018) and The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015).
The film is centred around the unlikely friendship between a troubled journalist, Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), and the loveable Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks), who is most famously known as Mister Rogers. Lloyd - who has a bad reputation as a writer - has to profile Mr. Rogers for an article about American Heroes and ends up growing very close to the children’s television presenter, despite at first being sceptical of his overly friendly television persona. Watching their unlikely friendship unfold over the space of two hours is incredibly entertaining and satisfying.
As someone who didn’t grow up with Mr. Rogers I thought I’d be lost. I must admit that I wasn’t familiar with the characters nor the show, which I’m sure would’ve been helpful. In fact, Mr. Rogers almost seemed fictitious, but knowing the story was true made it even more wonderful. Perhaps it’s best to start with a bit of context for all non-familiar viewers (like myself). Fred Rogers was the creator and host of 'Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood'. The programme aired nearly 900 episodes between 1968 to 2001. As well as this, he was also the writer of hundreds of catchy songs, the creator and voice of many puppet characters (many of which feature in the film), and seemed to have time for just about everyone. Mr. Rogers died in 2003 but his influence is something which is still prevalent in American society, hence why this film has touched so many. What I found most fascinating, when I watched a few clips of the show, is that he never talked down to an audience, despite most of the audience being children. There’s no real equivalent.
The film itself plays out like an episode of Mister Roger’s Neighborhood. It starts as if an episode of the show. Mr. Rogers opens the door of the prop house in the studio, slowly takes off his outdoor coat, donning his famous red jumper, and sits down. He slowly (very, very slowly) introduces himself and his ‘friend’ Lloyd and we watch as moments of Lloyd’s life unfold in snippets behind the squares of a prop window. These explosive moments completely contrast with the calm and collected Mr. Rogers’ show. It’s almost ironic.
It's cut together with shots of a moving train set and model villages, much like a real episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. This delightful nod to the show anchored you into the world of Mister Rogers and diffused some of the tension in the Lloyd scenes. There’s plenty of singing, piano playing and snippets of what the set pre-recording might have looked like, but none of it ever feels too much. And, believe me, it could’ve felt like too much. I urge you to spend a few minutes browsing misterrogers.org before watching the film and you’ll see just how much attention to detail was paid by Heller and the production team in making sure it was just right.
Mr. Rogers feels like a role that Tom Hanks was born to play and might just be a career-defining moment. Hanks embodies Rogers with a masterful edge. He’s the perfect blend of loveable and admirable, and his interactions with the public and the world are thoroughly heart-warming. His idiosyncrasies sing in contrast with gritty Lloyd and he brings warmth to the character. His performance is mesmerising, especially when you go back and watch Rogers himself.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is the perfect antidote to all the hatred in the news and around the world. It’s well worth a watch on a cold winter’s evening when it comes to the cinema. It’s the perfect wholesome escape film and, whilst I didn’t grow up watching Mister Rogers, I feel as if I know him, like many of the Americans who grew up watching him.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood hits UK Cinemas 31st January 2020
Edited by Andriani Scordellis, Film Editor and Alexia McDonald, Head Digital Editor
Watch us catch up with the director, Marielle Heller, at The 63rd BFI London Film Festival below