Biopics are a tried and true in filmmaking, with studios often putting out true life stories just in time for awards season — with last year’s Bohemian Rhapsody notably performing extremely well. This year, Chief among the examples of the genre this year is A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, which focuses on beloved late TV show host Fred Rogers. The movie debuted at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, with tons of hype around Tom Hanks’ performance as Rogers, and all of that praise is warranted, as the film very much lives up to adjective in its title: beautiful.
Based off the famous Esquire article “Can You Say… Hero?,” A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is set in the late 1980s, and follows a jaded journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matt Rhys), who is assigned to write a profile of Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks). This brings the TV personality into his life, perhaps more than Vogel would like. We watch as Rogers helps Vogel work through personal issues, and the light and kindness that he brought everywhere he went.
A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood expertly uses Mister Rogers iconography.
After an initial phone interview, Lloyd Vogel is sent to Pittsburgh, PA to visit the set of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. He meets Tom Hanks’ Fred Rogers for the first time there, while also seeing the legendary host in his element. But this isn’t the first time the audience gets to see that film set. A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood is framed like another episode of the long-running series, complete with cardigan changes and the signature theme song. The audience gets to feel like a kid again, with Tom Hanks’ Rogers setting up Vogel’s story for us.
Director Marielle Heller methodically included the iconography of Mister Rogers in the movie, being careful not rely on it like a crutch. We get glimpses of beloved puppets like King Friday XIII and Daniel Tiger, which Fred Rogers was known to carry around on his person. Since the movie is presented as an episode of the show, scene transitions are also kept consistent. The same music as Mister Rogers’ score is utilized, and the iconic miniature of his titular neighborhood extends all the way to New York City and beyond. This buoys the movie and its heart, even as more serious subject matter is addressed.
Director Marielle Heller’s fantasy sequences brings an extra bit of life to the realistic story.
The story of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a realistic one, and focuses on personal issues that plague writer Lloyd Vogel. The journalist is portrayed as a new father, and he and his wife Andrea (This Is Us‘ Susan Kelechi Watson) are adjusting to this massive change in their lifestyle. What’s more, he’s got a strained relationship with his father, Jerry, played by the great Chris Cooper. While this is a story based in realism, though, director Marielle Heller also includes exciting fantasy sequences, harkening back to her work on The Diary of a Teenage Girl.
This unique tone is established during A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood‘s first sequence, with Mister Rogers opening his beloved TV show and introducing Lloyd Vogel to the audience. But Heller also has other moments of fantasy, which involve the full cast. These scenes keep moviegoers on their toes, and bring a very different perspective to the screen. Every frame of the movie feels purposeful, bringing the maximum amount of tear-inducing joy throughout.
Tom Hanks’ Fred Rogers is endlessly delightful, and a layered performance.
Of course, I’ve got to talk about Tom Hanks. The Oscar winning actor has had a long and celebrated career on the screen, able to transform himself for each role. His skill as a chameleon are on full display in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, as he portrays a picture perfect version of Fred Rogers. While he doesn’t physically look like the subject of the movie, Hanks poured through hours of footage to find his unique dialect and physicality.
What results is a performance that will warm your heart, and also break it at the same time. You can’t help but smile every time Tom Hanks is on screen, as he brings Fred Rogers’ signature kindness and care to life. It’s this sense of hope that help to keep A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood afloat, even during its darker scenes. While plenty of Oscar hopefuls will make you cry by tearing at your heartstrings, this new biopic will inspire tears of happiness. Hanks’ performance is obviously going to get the 63 year-old actor some nominations, and it might be just enough to get him his third Oscar.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a methodically crafted biopic, and Tom Hanks’ performance puts its over the top as a modern classic. Following Mister Rogers return to the pop culture landscape through the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? in 2018, now is the perfect time for an on-screen adaptation of the beloved figure’s story. The movie delivers on all the beats you expect: nostalgia, kindness, forgiveness, and most of all joy.
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