“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” captures the spirit of Mr. Rogers


Lacey Terrell, Sony Pictures | TNS

Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks) meets skeptical journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) in director Marielle Heller’s unconventional biopic, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.”

By Thomas Wick, Senior Staff Writer

It’s time for Thanksgiving break and for some that means either catching up on all their favorite shows at home while eating all the leftover turkey and stuffing in their fridge or catching a few films at the theaters. There are a lot of highly anticipated releases coming out in theaters from “Frozen 2” to “Knives Out” and “Charlie’s Angels,” and, of course, the Fred Rogers biopic “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.”

“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is a compelling film, featuring one of Tom Hanks’ best performances as the late television personality — a person that he is actually related to. Despite what some of the marketing may have led you to believe, this is not a film about Mr. Rogers’ life. Rather, it is a dramatized story that centers on a journalist named Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), loosely based on real journalist Tom Junod, who is known for being very bitter and critical in his articles. One day, he is assigned a profile on Mr. Rogers — and from there Vogel’s life changes completely.

Rhys’ performance as Vogel was excellent, though maybe too excellent. It’s very clear that the screenwriters wanted to make Vogel an angry individual to contrast with Mr. Rogers’ endless optimism to show how a man like Mr. Rogers can bring joy to everyone’s life. And in that sense, Rhys’ performance was a success. 

Of course, that portrayal means a lot of the film focuses on Vogel’s bitter outlook on life and makes him unlikeable for most of it. It ultimately works in the film’s favor, though, when he inevitably develops and begins to show empathy for the people he has wronged, but for a majority of the runtime it was hard to stomach his character.

But as much as I want to criticize this movie, my negative thoughts were immediately washed away by the performance of Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers. Hanks has always brought a trademark charm to some of the most likeable characters in cinematic history, such as Forrest Gump. I forgot that it was Tom Hanks playing a character — all I saw was the real Mr. Rogers.

The film is directed by Marielle Heller, whose future movies I look forward to seeing. While I have yet to see her breakout hit, “The Diary of a Teenage Girl,” I adored her other film “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” — a film so good it earned Melissa McCarthy, an actress who has been in some of the most wretched and formulaic comedies of all time, an Oscar nomination. It follows that Heller did such a great job telling a humbling, intimate and relatable biopic about one journalist and now would be able to do the same for a film focusing on another.

The cinematography does what it should always do — heighten the emotions of the characters while keeping the audience immersed in the world. The film uses tight close-ups sparingly when the conversations are at their most enthralling.

There is a great moment in the middle of the film when Mr. Rogers and Vogel are having a conversation and the camera angles engross the audience even further. If this were done by an amateur it would’ve been creepy, but leave it to Heller and Jody Lee Lipes, cinematographer for “Trainwreck” and “Manchester by the Sea,” to make it work. The flow of the scene is just right and the camera lingers on the subjects for just the right amount of time to stop it from becoming disturbing.

Long takes are also a recurring technique in this film which makes the film more wholesome and intimate overall. There’s a scene near the end in which the camera lingers on Mr. Rogers and for a few seconds he actually looks at the camera, as if he is asking us to meditate upon the themes of the film. Again, this would normally be a little pretentious and annoy me, given most films would just use this as an excuse to shove in an obvious message of some kind. But Hanks gives enough information on his face for the audience to interpret his thoughts in an open, rather than singular way.

Something else that made this film impactful was how it paid homage to the classic TV show. There are moments in the film when the quality of the camera shifts to the aesthetic quality of the old TV show. It’s a nice touch, but what is even more charming are the toy sets they created for the transitioning shots. These sets aren’t just the land of Make Believe but also Pittsburgh and New York City. Seeing the City of Pittsburgh appear crafted just like the sets in “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” was something I never thought I needed in my life, but I do, especially as finals draw near.

The intertextuality doesn’t end there. The film uses a relaxing score reminiscent of the “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” show and there is even an exterior shot of the WQED station that they filmed the original series in. There is a lot of love for both Pittsburgh and “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” in this film. Even as someone who knows very little about the show, I can tell that a lot of thought and care went into maintaining the essence of the heartful vision that Mr. Rogers had when he did the show.

I could nitpick this movie to death if I wanted to, but if I did then I might end up turning into a bitter critic myself and honestly, I want to be a little more like Mr. Rogers. “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is wonderful and whether or not you have seen the show you still owe it to yourself to watch it. I hope this film doesn’t get overshadowed in the coming Oscar season because it is definitely a personal favorite of mine this year.