A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood Film Review: Tom Hanks Becomes Mister Rogers

Enjoying its world premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood is heartfelt tearjerker based on a true story of one journalists life changing encounter with America’s beloved Fred Rogers.

Director Marielle Heller presented one of our favourite gay TIFF films last year, Can You Ever Forgive Me. In her latest drama, A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood, Heller strings together an all-star cast featuring performances by Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Susan Kelechi Watson and Chris Cooper.

Tom Hanks stars as Mister Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood.
Tom Hanks stars as Mister Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood Film Review

The film A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood begins as Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks) swings open his door and enters a familiar and cozy living room. His jacket comes off, a warm cardigan slips on and outdoor shoes are swapped for indoor sneakers. Just a few short moments into the Mister Rogers Neighbourhood film, the audience is sold on Hanks’ transformation into the beloved TV host.

In 2018, Morgan Neville’s wildly-watched documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbour proved that the soft spoken children’s television personality held an enduring impact on our hearts. It was no surprise that a feature length film would be made in great haste to better explore the man behind Mister Rogers Neighbourhood.

The film A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood is inspired by the article “Can You Say…Hero?” by Tom Junod, which appeared in Esquire in November, 1998. The based-on-real-life film is explored through the eyes of the magazine articles author, Lloyd (Matthew Rhys) an investigative journalist in New York City.

After being assigned a profile on Mister Rogers, the jaded journalist approaches the children’s icon with cynicism, not believing that anyone can really be that nice in person. After several encounters with Fred Rogers in his hometown of Pittsburgh, Lloyd begins to realize that Mister Rogers and Fred Rogers are one and the same. He feels disarmed by Rogers’ honestly, and the way he seems to be able to look directly into the soul of both children and their parents.

The film’s skeptical writer goes from interviewing Fred Rogers to being interviewed by his subject. These gentle encounters unfold like intimate therapy sessions. In one memorable scene the duo enjoy lunch at a Chinese restaurant when Rogers asks, “Let’s take one minute of silence to think about the people that loved us into being.” Tender moments like these demonstrate just how profound and impactful Rogers’ simple way of talking to people about his worldview was. His heartfelt lessons focus on listening and extol the virtues of grace, forgiveness and compassion.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood is many marvellous things. The film is entertainingly touching (bring Kleenex), offers a fascinating history of a beloved American icon and is a timeless tale of transformation.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood: A Tale of Transformation

As Lloyd’s heart begins to transform, his energy shifts from trying to uncover Fred Rogers’ authenticity to his own internal issues. As a new parent, with a troubled childhood, Lloyd’s forced to reconcile pains from his past.

Lloyd is perhaps most touched by Rogers’ genuine and heartfelt interest in him, which is even more impactful considering his quiet and slowly drawn out demeanour.

The evolution of Lloyd’s relationship with his estranged father (Chris Cooper) offers one of the most touching transformations in the film. We’re aware Lloyd has a strained relationship with his father when he’s invited to his sisters wedding and responds poorly when he discovers his father has been invited. At the wedding the tense father and son end up in an alcohol-induced brawl, seemingly unable to repair their past.

Lloyd continues to fight the urge to reconcile with his father when he sees him camping outside his apartment building, sleeping in his car night after night. When he returns home one day to find his father eating pizza in the kitchen another heated debated seems inevitable, stopped short by his father’s sudden heart attack.

As Lloyd begins to absorb Rogers’ life lessons, he allows himself to test them out on his relationship with his father. While his dad is on his death bed, the duo finally have an opportunity to have a heartfelt moment. Rogers even drives over to the house the following morning, surprising the family with a freshly baked pie and his charismatic presence.

While thousands of children around the world can attest they’ve been saved by the work of Fred Rogers, in A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood, we see how the power of friendliness and forgiveness can transform the life of adults too.

“These’s always something you can do with the mad you feel.” Fred Rogers.

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Making A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood

“I rediscovered Mister Rogers when I became a parent, and we started watching Daniel Tiger’s Neighbourhood, which incorporates all the teachings of Mister Rogers,” Marielle Heller said. “It’s just been the most incredible experience for me with my kid. We use episodes from that show to help us deal with difficult parenting moments, and it’s brought me back to Mister Rogers and all of his teachings.”

The filmmaker continues, “I think it’s clear by the way that everybody is reacting to anything about Mister Rogers right now, that we are thirsty and starving for guidance in this world,” Heller said. “We are at a point where it feels like the divide, politically, is bigger than ever, it feels that way. I don’t know if that’s true, but there’s so much violence and there’s so much to be confused by, and to feel lost in. And I think finding and hearing Fred’s voice is really reassuring in these times. There’s something about his message that feels more important now than ever.”

Tom Hanks was just in his pre-teen years when ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood’ first aired, and in revisiting the show and exploring who Fred Rogers was for this film, the actor says he realized “the origami of the brilliance of Mister Rogers.” The Academy Award winning actor adds, “Fred Rogers was beloved in the eyes of the children who watched him right at that core time when they needed somebody to explain the world to them in a calm and almost quiet kind of way, because their parents are always too busy to explain such things.”

Making A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood forced Hanks to reflect on his past parenting, “If I’d been smart, I would’ve watched ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood’ with all of my kids when they were of a certain age and I wouldn’t have just sat them down in front of it. I would’ve watched it with them to hear what they had to say when it was done because I would’ve been more patient, I would’ve understood the language in order to use with them, and I think I would have also just been able to communicate to them just the basic principles of happiness and serenity in the world.”

Tom Junod, author of the Esquire profile the film is inspired, watched A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood and was reminded of what Fred Rogers stood for every day. Junod explains, “When I think of Fred, I often think of him in terms of what he did every morning, which was pray and think of the people he needed to pray for and write to those people and read and write. He had from five to seven every morning, those two hours of contemplating not just the mysteries, but the mysteries of people.”

Looking to craft a story that would re-introduce audiences to Fred Rogers’ philosophy of love and respect for all humanity, screenwriters Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman-Blue discovered countless stories of Rogers’ relationships inspiring people to live more fulfilling lives.

From the very beginning, the films producers and writers wanted Tom Hanks to play Fred Rogers. After reading the script several times the actor passed on the project, looking to avoid playing another historical character. The stars aligned once Hanks learned of his closer connection to Fred Rogers and his wife.

The film’s director revealed that Fred and his wife Joanne were marred on Hanks’ birthday and that the actor was Rogers’ personal favourite. “He loved Forrest Gump so much that literally, he saw it at least 15 times. And, I think maybe, maybe he related to Forrest Gump a bit. He certainly related to the characterization that Tom gave it,” says Joanne Rogers.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood

A jaded journalist reluctantly accepts an Esquire assignment to profile the children’s television host Fred Rogers and encounters a profoundly empathetic world view that changes his life forever.

Date Created: November 22, 2019

Runtime: 107 min

  • Genre:
  • Drama
  • Producers:
  • Youree Henley,
  • Leah Holzer,
  • Marc Turtletaub,
  • Peter Saraf,
  • Director:
  • Marielle Heller
  • Writers:
  • Cast:
  • Tom Hanks,
  • Matthew Rhys,
  • Susan Kelechi Watson,
  • Chris Cooper,
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