Just last year, the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? offered a heart wrenching look at the life of the iconic Mister Rogers. Because it covered quite a bit of his legacy, it begs the question of how the new biopic, A Beautiful Day on the Neighborhood, could offer any newer insight into Mister Rogers’s life. As it turns out, Beautiful Day isn’t much of a Mister Rogers biopic. Instead, it’s more about the power of his uncanny kindness and the ability to see the good in the most troubled souls.
Souls like journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) who begrudgingly accepts an assignment to profile Mister Rogers (Tom Hanks) for Esquire. Despite Vogel having a loving relationship with his wife (Susan Kelechi Watson), his overbearing father (Chris Cooper) causes him to go on an ongoing tailspin. Once he starts interviewing Rogers, though, he slowly sees the goodness in the world that he’s been shutting away.
With a perfect fusion of actor and character, Tom Hanks masterfully showcases Mister Rogers’ otherworldly empathy. While Hanks plays Mister Rogers as more of an idea than a character, it still plays into the picture’s surprising majestic notions. Mister Rogers was always seen as everyone’s best friend and Hanks presents that optimistic notion with ease.
Along with Hanks’ performance, the tracking shots of a model of the neighborhood from Mister Rogers’ show interwoven with real-life sequences allow the picture to possess fantastical reverie. That being said, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood still goes into some heavy places. During the moments where Lloyd is analyzing his own cynicism, the grainy cinematography by Jody Lee Lipes sets the atmosphere for those hefty scenes. Hardly any dialogue is used but as the camera lingers on Lloyd’s face, it’s clear that we see a man slowly coming to his senses and Matthew Rhys sells that arc wonderfully.
The film’s mix of realism and optimism is also well-handled by director Marielle Heller. Similar to her last film, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood deals with a person shutting out a world that can be cold and unforgiving. However, it is far more hopeful and serves as a reminder that there is goodness in this world. Particularly, good people that want to put you in your happy place.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is heavier than one would expect a film about Mister Rogers to be. Yet, it’s still an embodiment of the hopefulness that Mister Rogers projected onto the world and a tribute to such hopefulness. Even if it doesn't inspire you to be the Mister Rogers you want to see in the world, it should hopefully serve as a reminder to be kind even when it's hard to.