A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

For Americans who grew up with PBS between the 1960s and 2000s, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was a television series that spoke into their lives and defined multiple generations. Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks) was a soft-spoken and genuinely caring man who touched on all of the issues going on in US culture. Addressing these topics and showing children how to cope with complex issues such as death, divorce, war, anger and feeling sad. For a few years, it held the distinction of being the longest-running children’s TV show in the United States until that record was recently surpassed by Sesame Street.  

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood tells the story Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), a writer for Esquire magazine who is given the task of interviewing the iconic public television personality. The journalist is initially skeptical that the persona that Fred Rogers portrays on TV screens could be the same in real life. Lloyd’s initial interview makes him want to find out more about who Mister Rogers is and what makes him tick. Even though his time with Rogers was meant to be a one time interview, he is afforded more time with the television figure. Along the way, the reporter unexpectedly goes through a transformative process himself. Due to a broken relationship with his father and as he becomes a parent himself, Lloyd must confront his own anger issues. Through his consequent meetings with Fred Rogers, a friendship develops and he begins the process of healing emotionally and working towards restoration with his family.

For Australian audiences, Fred Rogers and the Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood TV show may not have factored into their lives or childhoods. Despite this initial cultural disconnect, the creative screenplay opens with an introduction that gives the background of the children’s show. Audiences will be also be introduced to Lloyd and discovering the past that sets the stage for the rest of the film.

Director Marielle Heller complements the visual journey through the different film locations by utilising the similar technique of miniature models from the famed television show. This leads to an immersive experience for the viewers as they experience things as the writer does as he interviews Fred Rogers. This leads to more background on what goes on behind the scenes and the human side of Fred Rogers. A man who became so recognisable to the public that he was widely loved and recognised wherever he went. One scene on a subway ride in New York highlights the influence that Fred Rogers and his TV show has had on people from multiple generations.

The majority of the film focusses on Tom Hanks and Matthew Rhys’ characters. These two exemplary actors manage to embody these men with a caring and human touch. Through the counsel and cooperation of Fred Rogers’ wife and family, Hanks honours the man behind the red cardigan with heart-warming accuracy. These performances are supported by a script that shows a different era in the world, but how the topics that impacted those days are still relevant today. The film proves that strong values and caring for others transcends time and showing how important we all are as good neighbors. 

For Mr Rogers and Tom Hanks fans in the world, this is a gift for the holidays. Like the beloved children’s programme, viewers will enjoy Lloyd’s journey of self-discovery and potentially see how the restoration of relationships is best for all of us. If anything, it will leave you singing ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’ for weeks to come with a smile on your face. 

REEL DIALOGUE: What is the value of forgiveness?

Early in the movie, Mister Rogers asks his TV viewers if they know what forgiveness is? He explains simply that to forgive is to stop being angry at someone who has made you sad. Dealing with anger is a theme that Fred Rogers frequently revisited on his TV show and admits that it was something he had to continually deal with himself and this is also the issue that Lloyd has to address in his life. It should not be surprising to learn that Fred Rogers was a Presbyterian minister as a lot of the lessons he tried to teach his audience are based on the Bible. He did not think it necessary to preach openly on his show or even talk about his faith but to simply demonstrate by words and action was enough. 

The Bible tells us we need forgiveness from God due to our sin of rejecting Him – the great news is that He has already given it to us through the death of His son Jesus so we only need to ask for it and our broken relationship with God will be restored.

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:31-32