By Morgan Roberts
Mr. Rogers. A figure who defined the childhoods of many individuals. He was the subject of 2018’s documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Now, with “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” (2019), Mr. Rogers is once again teaching us the importance of having faith in each other.
The film does not follow Mr. Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks) solely. It explores the world of make believe and Mr. Rogers through the eyes of journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys). Lloyd works for Esquire and is assigned to cover Mr. Rogers for the magazine’s issue on heroes. Lloyd is skeptical of the wonderous man with his puppets. As an audience, we learn to understand what makes Lloyd so skeptical. He is a new father and the fears he already has about being a new father are compounded by the re-emergence of his estranged father (Chris Cooper).
“Heller brings you back to your childhood while also having to tackle adult issues with adults for adults. It is a hard balance to bring and there are times it wavers, but it never loses its equilibrium.”
Lloyd struggles to come to Mr. Rogers with an open mind. Lloyd assumes that there is darkness with Mr. Rogers. That Mr. Rogers cannot be as good as a person as his TV personality appears to be. Mr. Rogers does not bite. Instead, he does what Mr. Rogers always does, and finds the points where attention is needed. Whether those points are your feelings of sadness, or fear, or anger. The film takes you on a journey much like Mr. Rogers and his trolley would on PBS. When you think you figure out what is going on, the film adjusts and goes deeper.
Hanks had huge shoes to fill as Mr. Rogers. Mr. Rogers, while quiet and calm, could fill a room with his electric and caring personality. Hanks clearly worked hard not to be a caricature Mr. Rogers but embody his stillness, his empathy, and his understanding. Hanks took the time to be both the Mr. Rogers we knew in our childhoods and the Mr. Rogers we are learning more about. He delivers lines that gut you the same way re-watching “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” does as an adult.
Directed by Marielle Heller, the film, at times, feels like an episode of “Mister Rogers’” with the miniature Pittsburgh and New York, the planes and moving cars. Heller brings you back to your childhood while also having to tackle adult issues with adults for adults. It is a hard balance to bring and there are times it wavers, but it never loses its equilibrium. The miniatures and the puppets are all fanciful. They provide the same magic the miniatures of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”
“I live in the same neighborhood as Mr. Rogers. I can easily walk to his house. The impact he made on the world and each individual who encountered him – in person or on television – is so profound.”
“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” was shot on location in Pittsburgh in September through early November of 2018. In late October of that year, Pittsburgh was part of the news for the Tree of Life Synagogue terrorist attack in the same neighborhood Mr. Rogers lived in. Whether or not this tragic event impacted the final cut of the film is unknown. But the message Mr. Rogers would share with us all during times of great tragedy and violence rang true throughout. While there are bad things that happen that we cannot always explain, our love, in the end, is how we start healing. We are all important humans who are loved deeply by someone else on this earth, and the love we share with each person we encounter is how we learn to heal, feel more whole.
I live in the same neighborhood as Mr. Rogers. I can easily walk to his house. The impact he made on the world and each individual who encountered him – in person or on television – is so profound. “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” pays homage to a man and a sentiment that has helped people and communities heal during the darkest times.
Mr. Rogers once said, “We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say, ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.” At the end of the day, Mr. Rogers will always be my hero.