Tom Hanks stars as Mister Rogers from “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” in this heartwarming new film “A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood” from Sony and TriStar Pictures. Every kid who grew up in the United States between 1968 and 2001 was familiar with Mister Rogers, the amazingly kind host of one of the most popular children’s TV programs in the country.
The movie is set in 1998, and focuses on jaded New York journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys). An estranged relationship with his father (Chris Cooper) combined with the stresses of raising a baby boy with his wife (Susan Kelechi Watson) has left him emotionally stretched thin.
When his magazine assigns him to interview Mister Rogers, he is skeptical of the subject’s importance. Yet upon conversing with him, he finds something significant in having a person to talk to. After his father suffers from life threatening health issues, he recognizes his need to let go of his anger and make peace before it’s too late.
“A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood” eschews the traditional biopic formula of Hollywood and treats Rogers as more of a peripheral character in the story. The focus of the story is the journalist, and his character’s journey is the same as that of the audience.
Both he and we learn a great deal of wonderful life lessons thanks to Rogers’ extremely heartfelt, personal interactions. Rogers knew that people desire to be in touch with honesty, and that’s a great adjective for the movie. Rhys delivers a performance of extreme emotional vulnerability, and Hanks is so pitch perfect as Rogers it ranks among his best performances in his career.
The movie was directed by Marielle Heller, who last year helmed the well received “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” Here she delivers her unique stamp onto the material, and plays slightly with the audience’s perspective by framing the movie as a feature length episode of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”
The movie opens and closes with Rogers explaining directly to the audience what the ‘episode’ will be about, and whenever characters travel from one place to another, it’s represented with the same cute miniature sets from the show. It displays a real love of Rogers and his program by the filmmakers, and that love is infectious on the viewer.
Better still, you don’t have to have grown up watching Mister Rogers to embrace his message of kindness. It’s easy to instantly adore Hanks’ portrayal of Rogers, and the movie’s theme of forgiveness makes you want to become a better person the second the film ends.
Heartwarming and appropriate for this season of giving, “A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood” is in theaters next week on Nov. 22 just in time for Thanksgiving.