Last night I went to see A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, the new film about Mister Rogers. I grew up watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood on PBS. I sat glued to the television as he grabbed a new sweater from the closet, watched VHS tapes with Mr. McFeely and saw myself in the shy, quiet-spoken Daniel puppet. It’s crazy to think of it, but so much of who I am is probably owed to those afternoons spent watching Mister Rogers.
The film itself is aptly structured like an extended episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, opening with Tom Hanks delivering an uncanny portrayal of the intro to the classic kid’s TV show. We are then taken into the story of Lloyd Vogel–an award-winning journalist at Esquire assigned to profile Mister Rogers–who’s suffering from familial discord surrounding his father.
As we weave in and out of Lloyd’s life we see a side of Fred Rogers that we never got to see on the show–though the effects are arguably the same. The moments where Lloyd and Mister Rogers interact during their “interviews” show just how expansive Fred’s kindness was.
Obviously, as a young kid watching the show I didn’t know exactly what I was being taught. I just knew that the show made me feel calm, it made me feel happy, I always learned something new, like if the fish in his tank could hear or how books were made. Looking back on it as an adult, the show was so much more.
And the film does an amazing job of sharing that Mister Rogers understood the breadth of human emotion–that those emotions are no less present or valid in the youngest of us–and they need to be seen, validated, and expressed in compassionate ways.
A Beautiful Day showcases that so poetically, and I cannot stress how calming and healing it is to watch this film. This almost extended vignette of how Fred changed Lloyd’s life is a beautiful representation of how Fred Rogers changed our lives and influenced so many people. I watched Won’t You Be My Neighbor, the insightful documentary on Fred Rogers’ life, so I understood a lot about the man behind those puppets and tender moments on tough subjects like war and death and divorce. This movie showed me so much more. It showed me Mister Rogers was a true human.
The story is based on a real Esquire profile of Fred Rogers published in 1998. The real journalist, Tom Junod (who Lloyd’s character is based on), is currently a writer for ESPN.
The movie is even more magical thanks to impressive performances by Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Susan Kelechi Watson, and Chris Cooper. Directed by Marielle Heller, I must also add that the film truly has a woman’s touch and was directed beautifully.
The movie was screened in one of the smaller theater rooms at my local cinema and it’s safe to say that over 80% of the attendees during my matinee showing were over the age of 60 and Caucasian. So I felt compelled to write this short review because one thing is clear: the movie may not have registered with the greater masses who are running to see blockbusters like Star Wars and Jumanji–more “exciting” offerings.
But if there’s anything I can say to persuade you to watch this movie, it’s this: It’s not easy to live on the brink of the year 2020. And it’s not easy to cope with our emotions. If you’ve ever felt hurt, angry, disappointed, wronged, broken, overwhelmed or lost–even for a moment–take an hour with Fred Rogers. I promise you’ll feel better.