“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” Revives Fred Rogers and his Message of Kindness

Josey MacDonald, reporter

Fred Rogers was one of the most compassionate and gracious public figures of his era. Many people wish he was still around to help guide us through these times of division. Although he has been gone for more than 15 years, stories and films have kept his message alive, reminding us of the importance of kindness. The newest movie about him, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, was released on November 22. Directed by Marielle Heller, it is about 2 hours long and stars Tom Hanks and Matthew Rhys. For me, the plot, the actors, and the film’s heartfelt message made it well worth seeing. 

The movie tells the story of Lloyd Vogel, an investigative journalist with a troubled past and a reputation for writing nasty stories. He is assigned to write a profile of Fred Rogers for an issue about heroes. At first he is annoyed by this, and skeptical of Rogers, but their relationship ends up changing his life. During their time together, Rogers helps Vogel let go of his anger and forgive those who wronged him. 

The movie is loosely based on a real friendship Rogers had with journalist Tom Junod. In 1998, Junod wrote an article about Rogers for Esquire magazine, called “Can You Say…Hero?” In the article, he describes the life and impact of Rogers: how wrote all his own scripts, how he changed the lives of the children he met, how he reminded us all that we were children once too. He describes how Rogers had a special energy to him, and “an unashamed insistence on intimacy.” Many parts of the article are reflected in the film, however most of the plot is fictional. 

Playing Fred Rogers is no easy task, as he was one of the most well-known and beloved figures on television, but Tom Hanks rises to the task. His performance is excellent, gracefully providing insight into Rogers and his relationship with Vogel. Even though Hanks is one of the most recognizable actors around, I was still able to get lost in his character. Matthew Rhys also does a great job of giving his character depth.  

The movie starts off as if it is an episode of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” with Tom Hanks entering and swapping out his jacket for a sweater, and his dress shoes for sneakers. In fact, the whole movie is a bit like the show. Parts of it are slow and somewhat cheesy, yet it is somehow still able to make you feel emotional, and think about life in a bit of a different way. 

I think a lot of the movie’s charm comes from its simplicity. There aren’t many special effects, and the cinematography is simple but effective. It appears to be well thought out. It often transitions between shots of real cities, and the model ones of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” to seamlessly begin and end scenes. The pacing is relatively slow, which is effective because it mirrors both the pacing of Rogers’ show, and the lengthy process of interviewing and writing that Vogel needed for the profile.

The movie tells the story of Mister Rogers in a unique way – through the eyes of somebody trying to profile him, through the eyes of somebody needing help, and eventually, through the eyes of his friend. The way the story is told helps us understand the effect Rogers had on other people, while also revealing his own thoughts and struggles.

I didn’t grow up watching Mister Rogers, in fact I’ve never even seen an entire episode of his show, but when I left the theater I felt like I understood both him and the message he worked to send during his 33 years on the air. Rogers was known for his unique ability to make people feel special. He would look into the camera, and make each viewer feel as if he was speaking directly to them. At the beginning of the movie, Vogel says “sometimes we are able to fix a broken world with our words.” This essentially sums up the power of Mister Rogers. 

Although Fred Rogers has been gone for more than a decade, his message is more prevalent than ever. It’s a powerful message – one about forgiveness, about loving others, about the importance of asking for help. Despite 33 years and 895 episodes of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, it’s often forgotten. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood does an excellent job of reviving it.