A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood is playing in cinemas now.
Anyone outside of the United States would be forgiven for not knowing who Fred Rogers was, a US national treasure whose children’s TV show, “Mister Rogers Neighbourhood”, ran from 1968 to 2001 on the PBS network. Inspired by a 1998 Esquire article by Tom Junod, Marielle Heller’s film is far more than a traditional biopic; it is a heartwarming, affectionate and nuanced tale of forgiveness and family.
Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) is an award-winning journalist with a reputation for brutal and cutting articles on his subjects, which has brought his career to a grinding halt. Therefore, when Vogel’s editor suggests he write a puff piece on the iconic children’s TV presenter Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks), Vogel is less than enthused. But his career at Esquire is hanging in the balance, and all he needs to do is write 400 words on the ageing kids TV star. However, on meeting Fred, Vogel finds himself intrigued and sceptical of the persona Rogers carries. Rogers’ positivity is as strong onscreen as it is off; his kid’s TV world a part of him. But Vogel’s scepticism doesn’t last long as Rogers allows Vogel to gently explore his own fears and anxieties through an unlikely friendship that heals old wounds.
Heller uses Rogers TV show to guide the narrative, allowing the show to bring out the innermost feelings and thoughts of the characters. Here, the nuanced and touching screenplay of Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman-Blue ensures the film achieves a unique balancing act as it dovetails the classic biopic with psychologically informed discussions on how childhood trauma shapes the adult. Sometimes, you wonder whether some deeply unsettling revelation will suddenly ‘out’ Rogers, but this isn’t a hatchet job; it’s a love letter to a man who lived for his work and genuinely believed the kid’s TV could change lives.
Heller’s film’s ability to embed itself in the viewer’s heart is beautifully encapsulated in one scene, as Rogers invites Vogel to share a minute’s silence with him in a restaurant. It’s a break in the narrative that gives the actors and the audience an opportunity “to remember all the people who loved you into being.” This one scene transcends the usual barriers of cinema as the audience becomes part of the onscreen narrative, ensuring A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood’s place as a joyous and emotional cinematic group therapy session.
Director: Marielle Heller