Review: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

Originally reviewed as part of the Toronto International Film Festival.

PLOT: An investigative reporter (Matthew Rhys) is assigned a four hundred word puff piece on beloved children’s TV host Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks). Bent on getting behind his cheery facade, he’s thrown for a loop when Rogers takes a personal interest in his well-being and tries to help him heal some old wounds.

REVIEW: It’s always been hard for us to accept that Mister Rogers was for real. He seemed too perfect, and there were always loads of rumors about him – all of which turned out to be completely untrue. The reason was his utter sincerity, something we’re not accustomed to. This makes A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD a smart way to tackle the character on the big screen, by framing the story through the eyes of an audience surrogate, in this case, “Esquire” writer Lloyd Vogel, who simply can’t believe anyone could be this perfect.

Thus, Marielle Heller’s movie is the perfect way into the phenomenon of Mister Rogers, even if some will be disappointed that this isn’t a straightforward biopic and that the beloved host is only a supporting character. For me though, in some way that makes the film feel almost like a movie version of an episode of his show, albeit for adults, with the ultimate lesson being that hate and resentment are toxic, and need to be let go over to lead a happy life. It’s a lesson we would all do well to learn, and if you’re gonna learn a lesson, Mister Rogers is the one to teach you.

Of course, Fred Rogers died sixteen years ago, but Tom Hanks is pretty uncanny in the part, expertly nailing his cadence and manner. No one plays gentle and kind like him, and it was wise of them to choose one beloved American icon to play another. Hanks commits wholeheartedly to the part, never playing Rogers as a caricature. Instead, he’s portrayed in a reverent, respectful manner that will be comforting to all who grew up with him. He even nails the puppet characters, King Friday and the beloved Daniel.

a beautiful day in the neighborhood Tom Hanks

Matthew Rhys is also effective as the cynical journalist sent out to interview him, with him struggling with his unresolved issues with a drunken, absentee parent (his father – played by Chris Cooper), something which affects his relationship with his new wife and child. Rhys, after years of playing haunted on “The Americans” has his role down cold, and most importantly has excellent chemistry with Hanks.

Heller, who also directed THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL and CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME, makes some interesting stylistic choices, such as shooting the “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” segments on video in 1:33:1, recreating what they looked like on PBS, and doing many of the establishing shots as if we’re watching them on the show, with the toy trolley and plane fx. It’s unconventional but it adds to the idea of this being a Mister Rogers episode for grown-ups.

A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD does a good job conveying the heart and soul of Fred Rogers without giving us a beat-by-beat depiction of his career, which was done a year ago with the excellent documentary, WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR. Instead, this is more like a Mister Rogers fable, showing us how he was more than just a kids icon and that the lessons he taught us as children still mean something to us now that we’re all grown up.


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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.