Just in time for the Thanksgiving Day holidays, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood warms our hearts with an up-close look at America’s favorite childhood TV personality, Fred Rogers— channeled to perfection by Tom Hanks.
But his character becomes almost secondary when placed in juxtaposition to Lloyd Vogel, a cynical, emotionally scarred investigative journalist for Esquire magazine.
In the story, Vogel, whose character is loosely based on real-life Esquire writer Tom Junod, is assigned to do a puff piece on Mr. Rogers for a forthcoming issue on heroes.
“That hokey kid show guy?” Vogel asks incredulously after being handed the job.
Vogel (Matthew Rhys) is a misanthropic, neurotic and damaged adult who rails against his estranged, family-deserting father (Chris Cooper). Rogers can see that Vogel is broken and badly in need of repair.
“Sometimes we have to ask for help,” proclaims Rogers, “and that’s okay.”
In time, through patience, caring and persistent positivity, he manages to pierce Vogel’s armor of darkness to allow healing sunshine to trickle, then flood in.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood shows why Rogers had such a positive effect on millions of children who watched his show for 33 years. The man genuinely was all about loving your children, parents, friends, neighbors and yourself.
As Variety magazine states, “Fred Rogers may have come off, on TV, like a walking piece of kitsch, but the real truth is that this ordained Presbyterian minister was the world’s squarest Middle America flower child.”
He was also an Emmy, Grammy and Peabody Award winner, sharing his talents as a pianist, songwriter and puppeteer. In 2002, he was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Director’s tasks went to Marielle Heller, who recently guided The Diary of a Teenage Girl and Can You Ever Forgive Me? to success. Here she successfully takes us back to the modestly budgeted Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood with its painted paste boards and low-end dolls and puppets, all illuminated in the flat light of PBS’ 1990s Pittsburgh studio.
Some 1,000 episodes of the show were broadcast between 1968 and 2001.
The potentially cliched cynicdoes-a-180 arc is avoided here, thanks to a pitch-perfect script by Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman-Blue, both Peabody Award-winning writers and producers who based their tale on Junod’s 1998 Esquire magazine cover story.
The writers even give us brief glimpses into some of Rogers’ imperfections, including an
admission of his own family’s struggles and estrangements.
Mr. Rogers doesn’t live in the neighborhood anymore. He died in 2003, but his messages of love, kindness and acceptance can still make the most miserable days beautiful once again.