For a movie centered around a famous children’s television show host, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” deals with some heavy topics — primarily anger and how it can consume you. I suppose that makes sense, though, considering that is what the original show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” did as well. Just like the show, the movie frames these heavy topics in a way that makes them suitable for kids. And by following the style of the original television show, the filmmakers beautifully soften the harsh topics.
The film opens up by introducing us to Mister Rogers, played by Tom Hanks (“Forrest Gump”), who explains to the audience that he will be talking about his friend Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys, “The Post”) and some of the hardships in his life. Hanks’s portrayal of Rogers is easily one of the most successful parts of the film; every time he is on-screen, he has a gentle, easy-going manner that matches that of the real Mister Rogers.
What is interesting about the movie, though, is that it isn’t really about Mister Rogers. It really follows Lloyd Vogel. The movie was inspired by the article written by Tom Junod, the man who Vogel is presumably based on. Vogel, like Junod, is a magazine writer who is tasked with writing a ‘hero-centered’ article about Mister Rogers. Initially believing the man to be hoax, Vogel doesn’t want to write the article. But as he interviews the man, he begins to learn that Mister Rogers is just as good a man off-screen as he is on-screen. Through the lessons that Rogers preaches on his television program, through the stuffed animals and puppets starring on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” and through genuine conversations with Rogers about important matters of life, Vogel realizes that he has to let go of the anger he has been holding in, releasing the contempt he feels towards his father all his life.
I have no shame in admitting that I cried while watching this film. There is something incredibly moving about pulling back the curtains on this children’s television host so loved by the world. One scene features Rogers and Vogel on the subway together, where a group of kids sees Rogers and begins to sing his show’s famous theme song. Other people in the subway car join in until everyone is singing. Seeing that moment of togetherness from a group of people who don’t know each other is, in many ways, what Mister Rogers is all about: kindness.
The film makes you want to be a better person. Viewers will see Tom Hanks as Mister Rogers and some distant part of them — the part of them that remembers watching Rogers’s show, learning about his kindness, and wanting to be just like him, will awaken. The movie follows Vogel because we, the audience, are Vogel. We are learning what kindness is just like he is. We are in awe of Mister Rogers just like him. We, at the end of the film, will be just as transformed as he is.