Was Fred Rogers the nicest man who ever lived? It’s possible.
Is Tom Hanks the most likable actor ever? It’s possible.
Putting the two together would only create one of the most touching and heartwarming films of the year, even for a black heart like myself. We all know the song, we all know the red sweater, and we all know the puppets. While most people liken their childhoods to cartoons and comic books, there is a vast majority who likens theirs to Mister Rogers Neighborhood. The iconic children’s television show remains in the hearts of millions but if you go into the theater thinking that this is a Mister Rogers movie, you may be a bit surprised.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is actually a story Lloyd Vogel, an Esquire journalist who has run out of people to write about as nobody wants to grant him interviews following numerous hit pieces. So he gets the opportunity to sit down with the infamous Fred Rogers. Upon meeting him, Lloyd realizes that there is far more to this man than his television persona because he learns that it isn’t a persona, and Fred has a lot of lessons Lloyd could learn about people and life.
The focus of the story is more about the character of Lloyd who is loosely based on a real-life journalist in 1998 that interviewed Rogers but the character of Fred is the heart of the film. Rogers plays the role of therapist for broken people and helps Lloyd rid over his resentment that he holds towards his deadbeat father. The thing that made Rogers such a likable character was his faith and morality. Now the film doesn’t get too deep into Rogers’s ideology but does a great job of showing how he used his television show to teach valuable life lessons to kids. John Nolte goes into detail about how for decades on public television, Rogers preached the Gospel without ever mentioning Christ or God, without ever preaching. Rogers in real life was a well known Christian conservative. The film obviously cannot work without the performance of Tom Hanks. Hanks brings home the voices and the mannerisms of the character on screen, he becomes Fred Rogers in every aspect.
The story is so easy to get lost in and credit has to go to director Marielle Heller who has built a solid resume in the realm of drama along with last year’s Can You Ever Forgive Me? It may be too early to tell of Hanks reserves an Oscar nomination for this role but A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood will create a whole new appreciation for Fred Rogers making it one of the year’s top films.