He’s best known as a legendary children’s television host, but the lessons of Fred Rogers are equally applicable for adults.
That’s the primary takeaway from A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, a true-life drama emphasizing Rogers’ advocacy for basic kindness, forgiveness, and unconditional love.
Rather than a biopic about the longtime host of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” however, the film gives us a window into Rogers’ world through the story of Lloyd (Matthew Rhys), a cynical investigative journalist upon whose novel — written under his real name, Tom Junod — inspired the project.
Lloyd scoffs when given an assignment to profile Rogers as part of a magazine series on heroes, dismissing him as corny and unworthy of such a designation.
Nevertheless, he travels to Pittsburgh to meet Rogers (Tom Hanks) and watch him work. Their interview sessions are certainly atypical. Rogers is more interested in asking questions than answering them, sensing from reading his past work that Lloyd is a lost soul in need of a new perspective.
He’s right, of course. The process becomes a therapeutic vessel for Lloyd to repair some broken relationships in his own life, most notably with his ill father (Chris Cooper), whose psychological abuse years ago has lingered with Lloyd and contributed to his sour nature. Along the way, Lloyd’s feature story becomes a profile more of a close friend than a total stranger.
Directed with tenderness and compassion by Marielle Heller (Can You Ever Forgive Me), the film maintains an irresistible charm to offset its narrative contrivances. Lloyd’s redemption story feels somewhat generic, and of course Rogers is the more compelling character.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood makes a worthy companion piece to the wonderful 2018 documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor, which also borrowed its title from the show’s iconic song lyrics.
Those who grew up during Rogers’ heyday will appreciate the nostalgic touches on the set, and even some playful re-creations of his appearances alongside Oprah Winfrey and Arsenio Hall.
Ever endearing, Hanks captures the spirit of Rogers beyond mere mimicry of his voice and mannerisms — although he fits pretty convincingly into the cardigan, too.
Likewise, the film conveys the essence of the television show, offering a heartfelt tribute to Rogers’ enduring legacy and the ability of his work to inspire us all. His lessons are both timely and timeless.