Fred Rogers was by any measure a remarkable man. He was the subject of a superb documentary last year that won a large and appreciative audience. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood doesn’t reiterate the same information and offers instead a canny but irresistible story of its own. Matthew Rhys plays Lloyd Vogel, a magazine writer who gets an unwelcome assignment from his editor at Esquire: a profile of Mister Rogers. He wears his reputation as an investigative journalist like a badge of honor and bristles at the thought of this gig. His first brush with Rogers only confirms what he suspected: the man is too good to be true.
This is the key to Neighborhood’s success: Rhys’ character mirrors our own doubts and questions. How on earth does Mister Rogers navigate in the real world as a husband, father, and entertainer? And how can he maintain his integrity in the world of television—even public television? Screenwriters Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster use Vogel’s skepticism as a rapier to cut through elements of doubt and convince the reporter while simultaneously convincing us of Mister Rogers’ genuine goodness and quiet valor.
I can’t imagine who could play the revered television host better than Tom Hanks, himself a beloved figure. Movies always require a suspension of disbelief, but Hanks’ perfect impersonation of Fred Rogers makes it easy to swallow. If there were any outward signs of cynicism in Hanks’ DNA we might have a harder time of it.
Director Marielle Heller, who fared so well with Can You Ever Forgive Me?, a very different biographical drama, artfully mixes recreations of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood with genuine footage from that long-running PBS series. And if the transition of Rhys’ character from a place of distrust to a true believer is predictable, the sincerity of the performance more than compensates for it.
Wouldn’t we all like to have a Fred Rogers in our life? This lovely film allows us to indulge in wish-fulfillment, which is something movies do so well. We could use a little more of it these days.