- Written by Randal C. Hill Randal C. Hill
Let’s get a couple of things straight here. The Thanksgiving-released A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is not your standard (and often incorrect) celebrity biopic.
Also, Fred Rogers — channeled to perfection by Tom Hanks — becomes almost secondary when placed in juxtaposition to Lloyd Vogel, a cynical, emotionally scarred investigative journalist for Esquire magazine.
In the story, Vogel, whose character is loosely based on real-life Esquire writer Tom Junod, is assigned to do a puff piece on Mr. Rogers for a forthcoming issue on heroes.
“That hokey kid-show guy?” Vogel asks incredulously after being handed the job.
Vogel (Matthew Rhys) is a misanthropic, neurotic, and badly damaged adult who rails against his estranged, family-deserting father (Chris Cooper). Then there’s the issue of Vogel’s fears about the raising of his infant son.
Rogers can see that Vogel is broken and badly in need of repair.
“Sometimes we have to ask for help,” proclaims Rogers, “and that’s OK.”
In time, through patience and caring and persistent positivity, he manages to pierce Vogel’s armor of darkness to allow healing sunshine to first trickle, then flood, in.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood shows why Rogers had such a positive effect on millions of children who watched his show for 33 years. The man really was all about love. Love your children. Love your friends. Love your neighbors. Love yourself.
Variety says, “Fred Rogers may have come off, on TV, like a walking piece of kitsch, but the real truth is that this ordained Presbyterian minister was the world’s squarest Middle America flower child.”
Director’s chores went to Marielle Heller, who recently guided The Diary of a Teenage Girl and Can You Ever Forgive Me? to success.
Here she has lit the soundstage set to deliberately make us feel that we are actually watching the modestly budgeted Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood show, complete with a jumble of painted pasteboards and low-end dolls and puppets, in the flat light of PBS’ WQED studios in late-1990s Pittsburgh.
The potentially cliched cynic-does-a-180 arc is avoided here, thanks to a pitch-perfect script by Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman-Blue, both Peabody Award-winning writers and producers who based their tale on Junod’s 1998 Esquire magazine cover story.
The writers even give us brief glimpses into some of Rogers’ imperfections, including an admission of his own family’s struggles and estrangements and him slamming a bit too hard on the low-end keys of a piano.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood opens Nov. 22. Be forewarned: You’ll need lots of tissues for this one.
Randal C. Hill enjoys getting sneak peeks of forthcoming movies from his home on the Oregon coast. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.