Since I’ve lived my whole life in the UK, I hope you can forgive my ignorance about Mister Rogers’ career. Whilst I knew who he was, I definitely didn’t have the same emotional connection to him as my friends overseas.
With this in mind, I was interested to find out how a UK audience would respond to A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, when it was screened to fans at London Film Festival.
Surprisingly, Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks) isn’t the protagonist of this story at all, and instead he’s more of a supporting character. The film mostly follows journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), who is tasked with writing an article about him.
Vogel’s character is based on real-life journalist Tom Junod, who famously wrote an Esquire article about the children’s TV presenter in 1998. I recommend that you read it because it’s absolutely brilliant.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a special kind of film, the kind that whisks you away from start to finish. It’s a film about the importance of friendship, and that it can be found almost anywhere.
Vogel is an incredibly cynical character, dealing with the stresses of work, marriage, a baby son and plenty of family drama on top of that. At the beginning of the film he gets into a physical fight with his own father at his sister’s wedding, which sets the scene for the issues he’s dealing with.
So it’s easy to imagine how he’d feel about Mister Rogers and his gentle, optimistic personality. At first he believes it’s all just an act, and that you can’t possibly be so mild mannered and loving all the time. This is the catalyst for the most unlikely bond between the two.
I cried on several occasions during the film, to the point where one of my festival friends actually leant over to check if I was okay (sorry about that!). To be frank, I wasn’t expecting to be moved so profoundly by everything I saw on screen. It was an honour to connect with the film on a personal level.
It’s very likely you’ll be able to resonate with Lloyd Vogel in some way as we’ve all dealt with terrible things in life, and the stresses that come with it. But Mister Rogers’ soothing, kindhearted presence seems to radiate from the screen and pull you in for a hug when you least expect it.
To quote the man himself: “There is no normal life that is free of pain. It’s the very wrestling with our problems that can be the impetus for our growth”. This was one of the fundamentals for his popular programme, Mister Rogers Neighborhood, where he spoke to children about very real, very important issues and how you can handle them.
The scenes involving this programme are also transportative, making you feel like you’re watching the real thing. It might not surprise you to learn that Tom Hanks has done it again, and did a fantastic job at portraying Mister Rogers.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is pure movie magic. There’s one scene in particular that is best experienced on the big screen, as it requires you to just sit in silence for a moment. That might not sound impressive but just wait for it, it’s truly wonderful.
If you’re looking for a documentary about Mister Rogers, you won’t get it here. This is more about deep human connection, understanding and forgiveness than it is about the man himself. But there’s nothing wrong with that, as it’s such a gorgeous film to witness.
So pack your tissues, maybe bring someone you love too, and strap yourself in for the most heartwarming film you’ll see in a long time.