Review: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Ever since I saw the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor, I’ve been obsessed with Mr. Rogers, the iconic cardigan-wearing and slow-talking children’s TV show host. Last December, I saw a released photo of Tom Hanks in a red sweater with the accompanying news that he’d be playing Mr. Rogers in an upcoming film, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Who better to play the warm-hearted man than, whom many would argue his modern counterpart, Mr. Hanks himself? From helping with surprise marriage proposals at this own book events and crashing wedding photos in Central Park, to sending personally typewritten apology letters to weddings he couldn’t attend — Tom Hanks embodies the warm-hearted soul that made him perfect for roles like Woody in Toy Story, and now as Mr. Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Knowing such a fitting actor would be playing the important part, I was immediately hooked and couldn't believe I had to wait a year until I could watch the film.

Flash forward to this Thanksgiving, and the day had finally come. I settled into my seat and soon the nostalgic melody of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood intro began to play. The opening of the film was an exact copy of an old episode, but inserted instead was Tom Hanks, until... he wasn’t Tom Hanks anymore, he was Mr. Rogers. It was an almost transcendent thing, but I soon forgot about the actor and embraced the old host, as if he was resurrected. Everything about Hanks’ presence is uncanny with regards to the man who he portrays. The slow, comforting drawl, the calm demeanor, and the regard for others are all characteristics brought back to life on screen.

The most outstanding aspect of this film is Tom Hanks’s portrayal of Fred Rogers. It is said that when getting into character, Hanks spoke to Rogers’s widow, Joanne Rogers, to ask if he had really spoken that slow all the time, even at home, to which she responded yes. He captivated that slow and soothing tonality that Rogers was famous for, the one that just makes you want to snuggle with your favorite childhood stuffed animal in bed and remember old times. Hanks was able to exude Rogers’ compassionate nature in a manner that wasn’t trite or a mere portrayal. Each moment that Hanks was on the screen pretty magical, but when he wasn’t, it was slightly slow and mundane to watch and at times. It was also hard to care too much about the protagonist considering he was usually a straight-up asshole (even to Mr. Rogers). Yet, nonetheless, Hanks makes up for it like a warm blanket of kindness that enveloped the less-dazzling parts of the film.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is based on the real-life friendship between Fred Rogers and Tom Junod and the article, “Can you say...hero?” written by Junod. Junod served as the inspiration for the film’s protagonist, slightly notorious investigative journalist Lloyd Vogel. Lloyd is tasked with writing a profile on the illustrious children’s figure, Fred Rogers. A semi-cynical critic, Lloyd doesn’t hope to expect much, but soon he is won over by Rogers’ genuine kindness and depth. From his friendly neighbor, Lloyd learns about love and forgiveness which in the end forces him to reconcile with his debilitating past and grow as a father and human.

Socially speaking, this film was also marketed as “the movie we need right now,” and though it feels slightly cliche, I do have to agree in a way. The media today is so jaded by violence and politics; this film is a much-needed sentiment to remind us of the human possibility and hope that Rogers symbolized. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood reminds you of simpler times and what it was like to be a child, when you would look to your television and instead of becoming depressed by the news you would see a friendly face that would guide you through the good, the bad, and the ugly. There was a constant reminder that you were not alone, a voice telling you “It’s you I like, the way you are right now.” In an era where a Mister Rogers is so sorely missed from many children’s homes, this film allows its older viewers to take a walk down memory lane, and exposes younger ones to the societal antidote that was this beloved children's host. As Rogers said himself, “One of the greatest dignities of humankind is that each successive generation is invested in the welfare of each new generation.” With this in mind, take a trip to the neighborhood and experience the enduring legacy because it has never as important as it is today to keep love in your heart and give the world a sense of worth for the sake of all future kids growing up.