This is an interesting film to talk about as a 24 year old Brit. Whilst he is a beloved icon in the US, Fred Rogers isn’t really known in the UK. Any information I know about him is based on cultural osmosis from what I’ve seen in America so I was interested to see how this would work in an environment that has little experience with Fred Rogers. Whilst I can’t speak to how well it will play in the UK as a whole, I thought this was an excellent film.
The film concerns Lloyd Vogel, a journalist with Esquire magazine who is tasked with writing a profile of Fred Rogers, the host of the beloved TV show Mr Roger’s Neighbourhood. Whilst Lloyd wants to use his profile to deliver an expose on who Mr Rogers really is he finds himself disarmed by how nice a person Mr Rogers is. Lloyd also finds himself emotionally troubled by his relationship with his dad, who is trying to re-enter Lloyd’s life. Now whilst most of the focus of the marketing has been on the elements with Lloyd and Mr Rogers, the true core of the film is the relationship between Lloyd and his dad. This kind of story is well worn but the way it is executed here is excellent through the injection of someone like Mr Rogers. There’s a truly heartwarming nature to the film and the way the script and direction works to establish this feeling is excellent, there are a few moments in the film where I did feel myself tearing up, with one point in particular showing the power silence can have in a film. Through the interactions between Lloyd and Rogers we see the impact that Rogers has had on generations of Americans and how his nature helps people come to terms with their own emotional state. There’s this feeling that Rogers is carrying the weight of other people on his shoulders throughout the film and it’s a feeling that Rogers feels is a worthy cause, along with showing how he uses his show to educate people not just about the world but about dealing with their emotional states. The true heart of the film though is the relationship between Lloyd and his dad. We see how troubled it is at the start of the film and the difficulty Lloyd has in coming to terms with what his dad has done in the past. We see the anger and pain that has built up in Lloyd and the way the film handles themes of forgiveness is excellent.
The performances as well are excellent. As Vogel, Matthew Rhys does a great job at showing his damaged emotional state, we see his cynical nature and the difficulty he has in forgiving his dad and as the film goes on, Rhys shows the impact that Rogers has on his life, allowing him to open up emotionally. Tom Hanks meanwhile is pretty much the only person who could play Mr Rogers and he plays the role excellently. Whilst Hanks is as excellent as was to be expected showing the genuine nice nature of Rogers and how charming he is to the world, Hanks also shows hidden depths to Rogers. Throughout the film, Rogers describes techniques that can be used to combat anger and negative thoughts, and as the film goes on, you start to notice that Hanks does these actions and has been doing so throughout the film, hinting at a greater depth to the character that he hides to the public and only a few people would really be familiar with. It’s a hard performance to fully describe as so much of the power is based on small gestures, but it is excellent. There are also strong performances from Chris Cooper and Susan Kelechi Watson which add to the power of the film, but to go more into detail would spoil the film.
On a technical level, the film is exceptional. What Marielle Heller does here is take what could have been a pretty mundane story and inject it with elements of the fantastical to really create the feel of Mr Roger’s Neighbourhood. From the framing device of it being an episode of Mr Roger’s Neighbourhood (and based on the clips I’ve seen it even includes features of the show and uses them in the context of the story, such as a Picture Picture for how magazines are created), it being filmed in the same studio, in the same aspect ratio and with the same cameras as the show to the use of models in transition shots, there’s this affection that pervades throughout the film for Mr Roger’s Neighbourhood. Heller also knows how to use this element to heighten emotions, using a fantasy sequence to embody Lloyd’s emotional state and having a transition shot with real vehicles, the jarring nature of this showing how damaged Lloyd’s emotional state at the time is.
Overall, A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood is a powerful, heartwarming film that will probably work as effectively to an audience that doesn’t know who Mr Rogers is as it will to an audience that has grown up with him. Whilst I’m sure there are elements of the film that went over my head due to my lack of familiarity with Mr Roger’s Neighbourhood, I found myself charmed and moved throughout, the performances adding some weight to the film, aided by excellent direction from Marielle Heller, creating a truly heartwarming experience.
My Rating: 5/5