"A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood"
4 out of 5 Stars
Director: Marielle Heller
Writers: Micah Fitzerman-Blue, Noah Harpster
Starring: Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Chris Cooper
Genre: Biography, Drama
Rated: PG for some strong thematic material, a brief fight, and some mild language
SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) – Synopsis: Investigative reporter Lloyd Vogel is assigned to interview and write a profile of Fred Rogers for “Esquire” magazine. Believing the work is beneath him, Vogel bitterly sets out on a journey that completely changed his life.
Review: There’s a moment in “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” where journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) is sitting with Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks) and mid-interview Rogers asks Vogel if he wants to meet the puppets he has in his suitcase. As a lifelong fan of Mister Rogers, I would have been thrilled to meet King Friday XIII, Daniel Tiger or Henrietta Pussycat. Vogel, however, finds the moment to be incredibly unsettling and when Rogers starts to try and interview the interviewer the journalist storms out of the room.
In Vogel’s defense, his reaction, based on the world we live in, is probably more appropriate than mine. His cynicism comes from a life full of experiences that tell him the kindest person in the room is the most likely to have a dozen or so skeletons in their closet. Fred Rogers couldn’t actually be Mister Rogers, could he?
If you’ve seen the documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” a gorgeous film about Rogers, you’ll already know the answer to that question. We can safely question the existence of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny; Mister Rogers is real.
In “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” Rogers is a supporting character. The film is about Vogel. To work, it had to be. Vogel is based on journalist Tom Junod, but he represents more than just Junod. He’s an everyman who doubts the goodness in the world. He’s an individual who surrendered has to bitterness and is so deeply entrenched in his negativity that he can’t appreciate anything. He is a reflection of modern society and his anger and hurt is more relatable than Rogers’s compassion.
Tom Hanks makes a good Fred Rogers in that he has a similar reputation as been a quality person. There are dozens of actors that could play Rogers, but I can only imagine how distracting it would be to have the likes of Colin Farrell, Christian Bale or Tom Cruise in the role. Hanks wisely doesn’t try to impersonate Rogers in as much as he approximates him. There are a handful of moments that are lifted directly from the television show that are direct recreations, but most of the story is about Rogers when he isn’t on set.
Again, it is important to see Rogers in a setting outside of his Neighborhood of Make-Believe to understand how unique he is. It also allows Vogel’s general sense of discomfort around Rogers to make sense. Who wouldn’t like Mister Rogers? Someone who wasn’t convinced he was who he said he was.
“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” isn’t the definitive story of Fred Rogers, that trophy belongs to “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” but it is a film that gives a sense of context and explores what it would be like to sit down and talk to someone who viewed every conversation as the most important interaction he’d ever have.
You can be Batman, I’d rather be Fred Rogers.