November 18, 2019

SCREEN | Mister Rogers Spends 'A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood'

"You love [broken] people like me."
Tom Hanks Matthew Rhys Marielle Heller | A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Director Marielle Heller, in a few short years, has wondrously expressed her talent for retelling and fictionalizing the real-life stories of fascinating people through her first three films. Co-starring America's sweetheart Tom Hanks as beloved children's television host Fred Rogers, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is actually a story about Rogers' followers and the kids across America he helped raise and their feelings as adults.

Set in 1998 during the later era of the classic PBS show Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, the film really follows Welsh actor Matthew Rhys as a fictionalized version of investigative journalist Tom Junod (renamed Lloyd Vogel for the film) who profiled Rogers for famous his Esquire article, "Can You Say... Hero?", on which the film is loosely based on and explores wrestling with our childhoods as adults.

Susan Kelechi Watson co-stars as his Vogel's loving and supporting wife alongside a newborn baby that freaks out the new father as he faces the trauma of his past. A moving Chris Cooper comes in to complicate matters as Vogel's estranged father. How Rogers comes into Vogel's life and how Rhys expresses the dark culmination of his family history is impressively weaved together.

Heller shows her talent for balancing the therapeutic story with her cast's fine performances without making the wholesome subject matter eye-rolling. A Beautiful Day's script written by Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster wisely avoids any biopic territory and restrains itself from delving too much into dramatic convention while balancing the real-life persona of Rogers gracefully.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood lovingly tributes not Rogers the man himself but his affect on children and adults everywhere. Heller earnestly gets across who he was as an inspirational figure, a regular man, and a vessel for our feelings. It's a touching portrait of kindness told through a necessary removal of our point of view. Much like his life's work, this film is actually about us and not Rogers himself.

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