A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a dramatization of the real-life friendship between the beloved Fred Rogers (March 20, 1928 – February 27, 2003) and the investigative reporter, Lloyd Vogel (a pseudonym for Tom Junod.). Vogel (played by Emmy winner Matthew Rhys of “The Americans”), is a journalist known for being cynical and abrasive. He is given the assignment to profile the beloved PBS television host of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood: Fred Rogers (the incomparable Tom Hanks), But he is determined to reveal that no one can have such a good and warm-hearted nature.
A feel-good story of kindness and integrity triumphing over cynicism, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is not a chronicle of the groundbreaking show which became a cultural touchstone for more than two generations of children. [The show ran on PBS from 1968-2001, with a total of 895 episodes.] Rather the US’s most beloved neighbor is intent upon demonstrating what a neighborhood really consists of. This takes great effort, introspection, and role-modeling. (For an excellent documentary of the history and development of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, see my review of “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”, March 17, 2019.)
There is a dual plot. Roger’s empathy, kindness and decency prove to be an anodyne to Vogel’s unhealed wounds. This forces the reporter to reconcile with his own painful relationship with his father (played by an astounding Chris Cooper, most recently in “Little Women”). What children and their parents find endearing about Fred Rogers soon affects Vogel deeply: the psychological healing when Rogers probes Vogel’s feelings about his parents the same way he taps into children’s. The surprise for viewers is how much both the personalities–Rogers and Vogel–play off each other and gain strength from their relationship.
Tom Hanks channels Fred Rogers in a jaw-dropping performance, including his vocal range, body language, and facial expressions. The viewer gets a powerful, touching tribute to Fred Rogers and the impact he had on so many children’s lives. Matthew Rhys’s performance as Vogel matches the accomplished brilliance of Hanks. The death scenes for both Vogel’s mother and father are memorable and moving, with a theatrical sensibility of the stage, –stripped clean of any background noise or special effects–and a nuanced, impossible-to-forget performance by Chris Cooper. The entire ensemble cast couldn’t be better
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood manages to make you think about yourself and how you can change the world “in your own special way”. He tells millions of children all over the world that he likes them just the way they are. His demonstration of the impact of kindness, –and courageous and positive ways of thinking and dealing with our emotions,– makes feelings both “mentionable and manageable”. Speaking directly to the camera from his heart and transitioning to a make-believe world may be the most startling reality-TV show ever.
An unexpected delight to watch for every adult (but not young children). I thought it would be saccharine…it is not.
Note: Available as a Netflix DVD. May 22 is the 143rd day of the year and a celebration of the late Fred Rogers’ favorite number. Shorthand for “I love you.” Because there is one letter in “I,” four in “love” and three in “you.”) of the calendar year, has been designated as “143 Day” in tribute to Mr. Rogers.
Fred Rogers is the sixth cousin of Tom Hanks.