One of the wonderful aspects of Marielle Heller’s latest film about Fred Rogers, the famed host of the Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood children’s program, is that it is not really about Fred Rogers. At least not in the traditional biopic sense. Instead, Heller presents a unique exploration of the emotional strife that comes with life and family. Much like the iconic program, the teachings of Fred Rogers serve as a guide to remind one that it is normal to feel anger and hurt, however, addressing and working through those feelings is equally important.
Confronting his feelings is something that Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) is not able to do. An award-winning writer at New York Magazine, Vogel has garnered a reputation for exposing the worst in the subjects he covers. Tasked with writing a 400-word profile piece on Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks), the investigate journalist does not see much of a story at first. After all, Mr. Rogers is the most beloved individual in America. As he tries to understand the peculiar Rogers, Vogel’s personal life begins to spiral out of control as his estranged father Jerry (Chris Cooper) suddenly reappears at his sister’s wedding. Reluctant to confront longstanding unresolved issues with his dad, Vogel soon finds his harden demeanour beginning to impact his work and his relationship with his wife Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson) and their newborn son.
Taking viewers into the world of Mr. Rogers, from the behind-the-scenes moment on set to his interactions with fans, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood effectively captures the goodness that Rogers saw in everyone. He cared little for fame or profit, but was rather interested in helping children, and adults by extension, manage the hardships of life. Tom Hanks’ wonderful performance embodies this. He portrays Rogers as a man with a big heart, but who was not without his personal foibles.
Through Hanks’ strong work, and Heller’s inventive uses of the Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood set, the film brings the audience back to their childhood. Making us feel as if Mr. Rogers is personally guiding us through our fears and reminding us that we are each important in our own way. The film even incorporates a powerful moment that allows Vogel, and the audience by extension, to reflect on all the positive people that one encounters throughout life. In any other film a sequence like this, or quotes like “anything mentionable is manageable”, would feel false. However, in Heller’s skilled hands they resonate on a deep emotional level. Like Rogers himself, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood reminds us that pain is a part of life and that’s okay.