A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a Joyful, Moving and Heartbreaking Tribute to Fred Rogers

Tom Hanks in “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” (2019, Sony/TriStar Pictures/Tencent Pictures)

Within the first minute of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, my eyes started to bubble up of tears of joy and a smile on my face came to me as you see Fred Rogers reincarnated in Tom Hanks, singing “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” and hitting every single note and rhythm of the real Fred Rogers. You instantly forget that you’re watching “Tom Hanks playing Fred Rogers”, and believe, wholeheartedly, that Fred Rogers is back from the dead. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood not only contains a career-best performance from Tom Hanks, but it is also director Marielle Heller’s crowning achievement — making it the best film of the year.

Marielle Heller hasn’t directed memorable movies. The Diary of a Teenage Girl was crap, and Can You Ever Forgive Me? was fine, but not “amazing”. After two “duds”, she finally makes one of the most emotionally powerful films of the year, using a fine attention to detail and a terrific lead performance to drive the movie forward. Tom Hanks truly gives his best performance of his entire career. Once you see him as Fred Rogers, you can’t take your eyes off him. The moment he’s on screen and sings “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” and then starts talking about his friend, Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), your heart completely sinks (and you too) as you observe a career-defining performance from a silver-screen legend. Tom Hanks undoubtedly deserves Awards recongition for his supporting (yes) performance as Fred Rogers. The film beautifully recreates the 1990s-aesthetic of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood by recreating its sets which took me back to the time where I watched the show as a kid. My heart sank even more and I started to bubble up looking at how perfectly accurate every single detail of the show was, from its Neighborhood of Make-Believe to its miniatures, everything looks and feels spot-on. The 1.33:1 aspect ratio also helps us immerse ourselves in the world of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Every shot recreation is insane, because it’s so spot-on. I couldn’t believe it. When Hanks says “Let’s look at it in Picture-Picture” and the piano notes hit at the right moment, my childhood would come back, and zoom-into “Picture-Picture” to see how they make magazines. At the end of the movie, Hanks sings “It’s such a good feeling” and then sits down to play Piano after the show stops shooting. It’s the scene that stuck with me the most, because after the credits ended, I was in a state of emotional awe that I started sobbing uncontrollably when I got in my car and drove back home. No movie ever did that to me.

After I composed myself and couldn’t believe how brilliant Tom Hanks was as Fred Rogers, the rest of the film is just as good and hits you incredibly well, emotionally. Lloyd Vogel is portrayed fantastically by Matthew Rhys — an emotionally broken man who can only think of himself and doesn’t want to face his family problems and confront his father (Chris Cooper) even when he gets a heart-attack and is going to die. Fred Rogers comes in and makes him realize that he cannot continue to ignore his traumatic childhood made my heart sink even more. When Rogers acts like a God in front of Vogel and starts to tell him the truth about his life and the trauma he’s trying to hide in his head completely broke me even more. The scene in which Rogers visits the Vogel family and talks about how Death should be talked about (as he did in his show) and whispers in the ear of Jerry (Cooper) is terrific. The way the camera is positionned as Rogers whispers to Jerry evokes even more Rogers being a Saint-Like figure, or maybe even God. There isn’t a soul on earth who doesn’t like Fred Rogers — those that don’t believe the show is destined solely for children. Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood was one of those shows that were destined for everyone, because everyone would learn something about Fred’s life lessons. He wasn’t afraid to talk about dark subjects like war, divorce, death, because he knows that children shouldn’t subject themselves to an innocent life and must know the rudiments of what life is all about. When the real Fred Rogers appears during the end credits, it’s where the movie will hit you the most, emotionally, because there is NO difference between Hanks’ portrayal of Rogers and the real thing. It’s uncanny.

If you take the time to go to the movie theater and experience the soulful cinema Marielle Heller has to offer in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, her greatest achievement yet. It’s an emotional journey to experience in a movie theater, especially to see its best sequence — a nightmare set in the world of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood that is both trippy and incredibly hard to watch, as Lloyd realizes he can’t hide away from his family problems forever. Yes, Fred Rogers is a supporting character in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, but his impact is felt throughout the entire film as it is highly evident that Rogers is, for many people, a God. It’s a film to see, to soak in the beautiful imagery and Tom Hanks’ greatest performance of all-time. There, I said it. Change my mind? You will not be able to.

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I currently study film and rant, from time to time, on provincial politics.