By Amber Avila
“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” directed by Marielle Heller, proves why Fred Rogers’ legacy is still so significant today. And if there is one actor who could succeed in the task of playing the cherished children’s television show host, it is Tom Hanks.
Although expected to be another biopic about Rogers, he is actually not the main character of the film.
The plot is based loosely on Tom Junod’s 1998 Esquire profile of Mr. Rogers titled “Can you Say … Hero?” The film is about the unlikely friendship between Junod and Rogers, although names and some events were changed for the screenplay. For instance, Junod is named Lloyd Vogel in the film.
The film follows Vogel (Matthew Rhys), a cynical journalist who is assigned to write the Rogers profile. Vogel is offended at first as he considers himself a serious journalist. Vogel is an angry man because of a longstanding bitterness with his own father (Chris Cooper) leaving him jaded. The timing of when Rogers comes into Vogel’s life is perfect as he shows Vogel the importance of surrendering to his painful feelings helping him reconcile with his father.
It is surprising that the film focused fully on Vogel and his emotions rather than being another biopic about Rogers. By focusing on Rogers’ particular impact on an adult, the film helps demonstrate how his wisdom affected people both young and old.
Through his relationship with Vogel, the film shows that Rogers was more than his uncomplicated tv persona. Rather, Rogers used his own often negative experiences to help children cope with emotions and complicated realities.
“Mr. Rogers was a radical in that he was trying to give children ways to cope with their emotions and that’s something that we need right now in the world,” Heller said in an interview with TIFF.
“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is the movie that you didn’t know you needed.
Hanks captures Rogers’ distinct slow speech pattern, body language, and warmth wonderfully. The film begins exactly like an episode of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” with Hanks as Rogers opening the door and following his routine of switching his suit for a cardigan and his daytime loafers for sneakers.
“Hanks isn’t just good – he’s transporting. He takes on Mister Rogers’ legendary mannerisms and owns them, using them as a conduit to Rogers’ disarming inner spirit,” Variety film critic Owen Gleiberman wrote.
With strong performances from all main and supporting actors, the film illustrates Rogers’ positive influence on his audience through the lens of his relationship with Vogel. The film is not an in-depth look into Fred Rogers’ life and what he went through, but rather more about the lasting impression he left behind on our society.