Despite being named after one of his catchphrases, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is not actually about the beloved children’s television host Mister Rogers (Tom Hanks). It’s more about investigative journalist Lloyd Vogel’s (Matthew Rhys) interactions with Mister Rogers and the way these interactions alter Vogel’s perspective on life.
Based on the 1998 article ‘Can you say…Hero?’, Marielle Heller’s film is framed by an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and the grainy footage is instantly nostalgic. The children’s show was on air for over three decades, and Mister Rogers in his zip-up cardigans became a household name.
Despite the excellent direction and the clever maneuvering around tropes that often mar biopics, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood fails to provide an engaging-enough storyline. While it maintains Rogers’ saint-like persona, which is likely not a persona but his genuine personality, the film relies on the audience to empathize with the journalist Vogel, who acts as if he has the weight of the world on his shoulders – you’ll have to forgive me if I find it difficult to connect with a lead character who cannot emote.
Lloyd Vogel is tasked to write a 400-word “puff piece” on Mister Rogers for Esquire magazine. Being an investigative journalist who doesn’t write puff pieces, he is determined to find dirt on Fred Rogers but is floored when Rogers instantly accepts him as a good friend. Vogel’s personal life becomes the crux of the film – his struggles with his childhood are overflowing into his marriage, his career is at an impasse as people are refusing to be interviewed by him, and his relationship with his father is violent.
Ultimately, Mister Rogers’ gentle influence and example encourages Vogel to be a more involved father to his newborn son and a more understanding son to his ailing father. Hanks oozes kindness and despite not fully resembling the famous TV host, does such an excellent job of emanating his charm and personality. He has, justifiably, been nominated for a host of awards, including an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
The hallmark of the film is the use of the reproduction of the ‘Neighborhood of Make-Believe‘. The miniature set is used to create all the establishing shots in the film and adds a bit of whimsy to what can be, at times, a rather dark film. While not completely enthralling, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is sure to delight many of Mister Rogers’ friends.
Days before the film premiered, ancestry confirmed Tom Hanks and Fred Rogers are actually sixth-cousins.