As a critic, it is important to try to view a movie as impartially as possible. There was no way I could do this with “A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood.”
For people of a certain age, “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” was an essential part of our childhood. His calm, daily reassurance we were liked just the way we were made the world seem a little less scary. His presence was so impactful at such a formative time of my life this felt like watching a movie about a beloved family member instead of a host of a PBS children’s show.
The movie is brilliantly framed like an episode of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” where Tom Hanks perfectly embodies Fred Rogers and his overwhelming patience and kindness.
Mr. Rogers introduces us to a friend of his, cynical journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), who is tasked with writing a profile of Fred during the late 1990s.
At this point, Mr. Rogers is an institution, and Lloyd bristles at having to produce what he considers a puff piece. Lloyd is also at a bit of a personal crossroads as he and his wife Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson) are expecting their first child and Lloyd’s estranged father Jerry (Chris Cooper) has just reentered his life.
Lloyd is kind of a mess and Fred realizes Lloyd needs a friend. At first, Lloyd pushes back against the notion Fred lives his life in the same way he does on television, but his gospel of compassion and acceptance begins to wear down Lloyd’s defenses.
Based on a true story, “A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood” is a heartfelt tribute to Mr. Rogers’ legacy. As a fellow critic put it after the screening, it’s essentially an episode of “Mr. Rogers” for adults, complete with brilliant touches like pushing in and out of models as we travel to different locations and a visit from Mr. McFeely (Daniel Krell).
Director Marielle Heller keeps the focus on Lloyd and his family and smartly avoids all the trappings of a by-the-numbers biopic.
I adored this movie, as Hanks is the perfect vessel to embody the relentless decency of Fred Rogers. A perfect companion piece to last year’s fantastic documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”, which documented the life and times of Fred Rogers, “A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood” is a testament to his powerful message that loving yourself and loving your neighbor are the most important things in the world.
Sadly, it’s an easy lesson to forget and anything that reminds us of that has to be worthwhile, even if it comes dripping with generational nostalgia. And frankly, the world can use as much Mr. Rogers as it can get.
“A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood” is rated PG for some strong thematic material, a brief fight, and some mild language.