Since the release of last year’s widely acclaimed documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, a renewed spotlight has found itself shining on the man known as Fred Rogers; and yet even though nearly 20 years have passed since his death, the core message of Mr. Rogers’ life mission has demonstrated its tremendous transcendence of time and place. A Beautiful Day in The Neighborhood from director Marielle Heller is thus not solely another work that profiles that nearly perfect being Mr. Rogers, but a reflective and emotionally superb work of cinema that once more reminds us of why love must win out.
One doesn’t have to look far to see the many despicable things on this Earth and the awful things humans do to each other. Yet just when it seems there’s no hope for humanity, people like Fred Rogers (1928-2003) emerge to remind us of the eternal power of love and simple everyday goodness.
While the film is not a biography per se, as the documentary was, it works nicely as a companion piece; like the documentary however the movie’s strength is its focus on Fred Rogers’ philosophy, how he dealt with every person as a valued individual and his message of positivity, encouragement, and hope.
Into the role of this most comforting neighbor, enters the always reliable Tom Hanks, who not surprisingly delivers resoundingly in a respectful, nuanced and emotional manner. While the resemblance is not totally spot-on, what Hanks has managed to do is accurately duplicate the temperament and in essence the soul of Rogers, reducing the need for many physical similarities. Soft-spoken, reassuring, and completely filled with a wisdom that can come only from a life dedicated to love, Hanks’ portrayal is a genuine embrace of this gentle man’s being.
Like watching clips of the real Mr. Rogers, seeing Hanks in the cardigan sweater is soothing and even familiar. Totally at ease in the role, Tom Hanks demonstrates again why he is such a great acting chameleon, capable of a wide range of characters and moods. The role of Fred Rogers may be amongst his most reserved and respectful personifications, and yet even through the calmness, there is an undeniable forcefulness and clear mastery in his craft.
If it is somehow possible or imaginable for an audience member to have not previously seen the actual Mr. Rogers, watching Hanks’ interpretation is indeed a suitable introductory vehicle to an understanding of who Fred Rogers was and how he lived.
The film and its other main character Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) asks the question if there was an actual distinction between Mr. Rogers and Fred Rogers; is it possible for someone to actually be so nice and caring? Was the friendly neighbor routine just an elaborate character? As Lloyd and us the viewers discover, the only “fake” things concerning Mr. Rogers were the soundstages of his TV home.
He didn’t just preach the need for goodness and an openness to our feelings, he lived it. That’s why his spirit lives on because there was never a hypocrisy with Mr. Rogers. He preached what he lived, and he lived what he preached, always with an encouragement for us to follow.
Hence like its protagonist, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is sweetly sentimental, emotionally mature and constantly reminding us of why the world needs kindness. Often times today we may hear the notion of “We need Mr. Rogers back“, and yet, in reality, we don’t need him back, we must simply carry on the torch he left us. His life work is now complete and now to keep him alive or “bring him back”, it is time we did our own work; time for us to love, be generous and unafraid to share our feelings.
Lloyd Vogel, the jaded journalist in this story, discovers that work, while audiences hopefully rediscover this urgent call to action. Love does triumph when we find the room for it, and Fred Rogers always did. And so whether it is through watching this film, the documentary companion, or just going back to revisit episodes of Mr. Rogers television program, if there is one message we can hope to glean it is not just that Fred Rogers was a good man, but that if we truly want to honor him we must begin to live how he did; with dignity, grace and respect for all.
Whether it’s children or adults this message has continued to show why its transformative power matters. Evil may affect the world, but love will always reign as long as we can ask the person next to us “Won’t you be my neighbor?”
Review: A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood
Emotionally mature and sweetly sentimental, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, honors Fred Rogers through its invitation of goodwill to all.