Mr. Rogers was highly praised and respected for his work on children’s television. He received numerous awards and honorary degrees, and the crown of his career was receiving the Presidential Medal for Freedom in 2002. Although he had the status of a celebrity, he had no problem riding the subway, chatting with passers-by or being late for the taping of the show because he is busy with humanitarian work. This movie is based on a true story, and the basis was an article called Can You Say… Hero?, by Tom Juneau, which was published in Esquire magazine.
Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) has a reputation as an awkward, tongue-in-cheek journalist who is rejected by his subjects, so his superior sends him on an unusual assignment. Namely, he has to go to Pittsburgh and do a short interview with Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks), the author of children’s shows. Lloyd was sent on his way by his wife with the words don’t ruin my childhood, with a plan to write a few hundred words. Fred Rogers was difficult to talk to because he cared more about the interviewer than the interview itself. The planned short profiling became a text of ten thousand words…
The first impression of this film is probably its biggest flaw, which is the simple fact that it is not about Mr. Rogers as most viewers expect. I was confused that Tom Hanks was nominated in a supporting role when the promotion for this movie is based on him, but he turns out to be subtle, from the background. From the very opening, the film reminds us of the virtues of Rogers’ children’s program, of his patience, compassion, tenderness and willingness to address issues that make most parents confused or uncomfortable.
Director Marielle Heller makes her film like a version of an old show special. Mr. Rogers enters the room, sings, changes his clothes and proceeds to take us through the life of his subject. The set design is mirrored, and the transitions between scenes are shots of neighborhood models from the series. Tom Hanks, as expected, fits into the role from the first second, but the real depth of his performance comes a little later, when he is not in the studio as Mr. Rogers, but just plain Fred.
Floyd’s character is angry, resentful, insecure and in emotional turmoil, but he’s the type of person who would never admit it. We learn the details of his life and the reasons for the decades of pain that defined him. Floyd knows who Mr. Rogers is, but it is not specified if he did not watch him or if he found his show childish and repulsive. The first meeting between Floyd and Rogers sets up one of the most important lessons of the film, which is that it’s okay for people to get angry, it’s something normal, but it’s up to us to decide what to do with that anger. There is also a lesson about forgiveness and how it is most difficult to forgive those we love.
These kinds of lessons were the main part of this children’s show and Mr. Rogers patiently applied this philosophy even outside of filming. The man repeated his advice for years and years, but without any feeling that he had enough of it or that he was doing everything for money. Mr. Rogers was aware that children need to know that everything will be okay, and that adults in their rush have forgotten how painful and confusing it can be to be a child. This time, in this movie, such lessons and such advice were needed by a grown man.
The best part of the film is the conversations between Floyd and Mr. Rogers, as their sincere friendship grows. Initially opposed, it is a real pleasure to watch Floyd’s inner barriers break down and he becomes a man who is ready to express himself and forgive. The strongest moment is certainly the scene in which Mr. Rogers suggests that Floyd remember the people who love him. A minute begins, we sit in total silence and as Mr. Rogers looks at us, we realize that his proposal is not only about Floyd, but also about us.
A Beautiful Day in The Neighborhood is a light biographical story about the victory of kindness over cynicism, about overcoming skepticism and learning empathy, kindness and decency – a film that fantastically captures the spirit of a man who loved people so much that he sincerely wanted them to love themselves.