Film Review: Tom Hanks Invites You to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

For millions of people of every age, Mister Rogers provided a friendly and familiar face over the course of more than 900 half hour episodes and specials.  Now, Tom Hanks channels this iconic figure of hope and humility in a A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD, based in part on the article “CAN YOU SAY… HERO?” written by Tom Junod and published by Esquire Magazine in 1998.

A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD begins exactly like an episode of Fred Rogers’ classic children’s program.  Hanks deftly removes his suit jacket and replaces it with a red sweater, takes off his dress shoes and switches into a comfortable pair of blue sneakers.  It’s a nostalgic and effective way to draw audiences in.  During this opening, Rogers introduces a new friend, Lloyd Vogel (a fictionalized version of Junod played by Matthew Rhys), by showing an unflattering candid photo of the journalist sporting the telltale marks of a fist fight.

The use of Mister Rogers’ iconic show to frame the narrative can occasionally seem in strange juxtaposition with some of the subject matter.  Lloyd’s estranged father (played by Chris Cooper) resurfaces in his life at a wedding, and introduces complex familial strife that not only results in Lloyd’s bruised visage, but complicates things with his wife Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson) and their newborn.  While Rogers was certainly well known for exploring deeply emotional and occasionally fraught material, portions of A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD play out like a weird grown up fever dream version of the lauded children’s program.  One restaurant scene and a puppet-filled nightmare, especially, can seem jarringly out of place.

Lloyd’s jaded personality is challenged almost immediately by Rogers’ wholesome approach to communication and connection.  At first, he is clearly angered by his subject’s unwillingness to speak about himself; Rogers seems always more interested in Lloyd’s life and problems than he is in discussing his own history.  Viewers who have read the original article upon which this film is based will recognize the opening anecdote about “Old Rabbit” when it surfaces.  Other key true details are also included, which helps keep this fictionalized version of Mister Rogers and his interviewer tethered to the real “Rodge.”

For fans of Rogers’ groundbreaking approach to children’s education and entertainment, A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD offers a peak behind the curtain into how Fred Rogers became Mister Rogers, and how his unique approach to people and unflappable demeanor could positively improve not only the lives of impressionable young children, but even the most cantankerous of adults.  Just be sure you’re ready for the sometimes strange intersection of adult affectation and guileless candor that can result in some bizarre scenes and transitions.

A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD, directed by Marielle Hellers opens on November 22, 2019.

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