Toronto 2019: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Tom Hanks stars as Mister Rogers in TriStar Pictures' A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD. Photo by: Lacey Terrell.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood tells the story of a journalist who befriends Fred Rogers while writing a profile on heroes for Esquire.

From the moment that the film starts and Fred Rogers opens the door to put on the cardigan, the emotions certainly began to hit.  How can they not?  We’re talking about a true American hero who represents the very best that society has to offer.  After all, he’s Mister Rogers–the man we grew up watching on television.  Where Won’t You Be My Neighbor? focuses on his entire life, this film focuses on a friendship with Esquire magazine journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys).  Micah Fitzerman-Blue & Noah Harpster’s script takes its inspiration from Esquire journalist Tom Junod’s article, “Can You Say…Hero?

This is a film that represents the very best that society has to offer.  Whether he liked the phrase or not, Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks) was “a living saint.”  There are some lines in the film that also goes to show how modest of a man that he was while living.  During one of their interview sessions, Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) asks the TV star about being famous.  “Fame is a four letter word like tape or face,” Rogers says.  “What matters is what we do with it.”

Rogers certainly has a way of seeing something that in broken people, even someone as cynical as Vogel.  Of all the people Esquire wanted to profile as a hero, he was the only one willing to speak with Vogel.  This comes even as Bill (Enrico Colantoni) makes him read as much of Vogel’s work as possible.  As the two get to know each other, Vogel starts to become a changed person.  He has an estranged relationship with his father, Jerry (Chris Cooper), that might never recover.

In bringing Rogers into his life, one could certainly predict the look on wife Andrea’s (Susan Kelechi Watson) face when Rogers first calls the house.  Again, we’re talking about one of the most famous people in America.  The look on her face is priceless.

I love the way that Marielle Heller approaches the direction in the film.  Visually speaking, the skyline shots take its  cue from the show’s TV set with very few establishing shots.  It’s a genius idea if you ask me.  Even going back to the script, I just love how they decide to approach by way of a cynical journalist.  He may have one of the worst reputations in the world but the film allows us to see Fred Rogers through his eyes.

I can’t think of anyone better for the role of Fred Rogers than Tom Hanks.  One is a national hero.  The other is the nicest guy in Hollywood according to his reputation.  It cannot be stressed enough just how much he embodies Rogers in the role.  And to think that Hanks doesn’t even come on board without Marielle Heller signing onto direct the film.  Yet Hanks doesn’t wear prosthetics for the role.  There are some subtle changes made to his facial appearance but he’s able to capture everything else about the persona.  What’s even more amazing is how they are able to recreate the set!  Not only this but the show itself is recreated at the WQED studios in Pittsburgh.  Cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes simply does a phenomenal job right down to using versions of the same camera used during the 1998 season.

Fred Rogers is exactly right when it comes to fame.  One can use their fame as a way of spreading awareness.  Or they can choose against doing anything at all.  What Fred Rogers did was use his platform (and one would also say fame) as a way of addressing the many young viewers watching daily.  Subject matters weren’t limited to only happy things.  He also addressed the dark subject matters, too.  As last year’s documentary shows, he addressed tragedies that hit the nation.  These were matters that he felt were important.  But again, we know what Fred Rogers represents because many of us watched Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood as children.

There have been films over the years that have brought out the worst in society.  Hell, there’s a toxic climate right now when it comes to dealing with social media.  Yet there’s something in watching Fred Rogers give us a sense of calm.  He’s the guy who will let us know that everything will be alright.  Even if things don’t turn out alright, he’s the type of person to bring us hope against the storm.

It should really come as no surprise that tears will start falling sometime during A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.  If A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood‘s opening doesn’t get you, the spontaneous singing on the New York subway certainly will.

DIRECTOR:  Marielle Heller
SCREENWRITERS:  Micah Fitzerman-Blue & Noah Harpster
CAST: Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Susan Kelechi Watson, and Chris Cooper

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood holds its world premiere during the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival in the Gala program. Sony/TriStar Pictures will release the film on November 22, 2019. Grade: 5/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.