I am absolutely baffled that this was passed up on during award season. There are very few times in my life that I have watched a film where I wouldn’t change a single thing, but this is one of those films. Directed by Marielle Heller, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite directors, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is based on a true story of a reporter doing a profile on none other than the beloved Mr. Rogers. Matthew Rhys plays Esquire reporter Llloyd Vogel, who is based on real life reporter Tom Junod. Now, it’s important to understand that most of the story around Lloyd Vogel is fictionalized. However, the friendship depicted between Vogel and Rogers is accurate to the friendship Junod had with Rogers.
Fred Rogers is played by the always lovable Tom Hanks. Hanks does a wonderful job of encapsulating Mr. Rogers, from the way he speaks to the way he moves. At the start of the film, it was hard for me to see anybody other than Tom Hanks on the screen. I didn’t feel yet that he embodied the character. But, as the film went on, Hanks was lost and Rogers was pushed forward. Nobody else could have played that role the way Hanks did.
The set design and the general story set up of the film was astoundingly creative. The story was set up and then filmed like an episode of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. The story also pulled a “Mary Poppins”, meaning that the story itself is not about Fred Rogers and the life he lived, but about Lloyd Vogel and how Rogers saw something in him that nobody else seemed to see, and Vogel’s character growth due to his friendship with the childhood icon. The entire set design team, from the production design to the art direction to the set decoration, worked to meticulously recreate the sets from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, as well as create the incredible sets for the city interludes.
The music, by Nate Heller, added to the emotion to the film. It perfectly took the music from the show and added just enough to make something new. The casting was perfect, not only with Hanks as Fred Rogers, but with Maryann Plunkett as Joanne Rogers and even Maddie Corman as Lady Aberlin.
Now, I knew this film was going to make me cry. I grew up watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, so I already had that attachment. I had also cried when I watched the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, so I was ready for it. For those wondering, it was at 26 minutes and 42 seconds that the first tears hit my eyes and my cry count for the entire film was 7. I cried 7 times, with the last time I cried pretty much carrying me through the rest of the film.
I’m not going to lie: I am bitter that Marielle Heller didn’t get more praise for this film. I mean, not only was it just wonderfully directed, but she used silence in the film to punctuate moments. There’s a sequence where there is one complete minute of silence. That’s a ballsy move, I think. The end of the film uses silence just as effectively.
In these trying times, where everything is uncertain, this is a film that is needed. There’s a line in the film, spoken by Rogers’, that really stuck with me: “Anything mentionable is manageable”. And that’s something that needs remembering. There’s not a single aspect that I would change about this film. Not one thing.