Based on the true story of a real-life friendship between Fred Rogers and journalist Tom Junod.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? was released in June of last year, and is a wonderful documentary which scored high with film critics and reviewers everywhere. The critically acclaimed film, based on the life and kindness of TV host Mr. Fred Rogers, is now the top-grossing biographical documentary of all time.
This season’s new film about one of our country’s greatest icons, starring two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks, titled, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, premieres November 22 and we highly recommend it for families. Hanks is wonderful as Mr. Rogers. He brings the warmth and spirit of Mr. Rogers to life, with voice and manner precisely honoring the great minister of kindness. Matthew Rhys plays Lloyd Vogel and his expressions ooze with emotion; his performance is as much the beauty of this film as is the story of Rogers itself.
In a pivotal emotional moment, Fred Rogers is with Lloyd Vogel at a diner, and Fred is striking deep chords with the skeptical Vogel. Fred asks to have a moment of silence with him, just for a minute, to ponder the loved ones who have touched his life. We see Vogel react to something buried inside of him and we learn that his mother died when he was a child. A big part of the dramatic action revolves around Vogel’s anger toward his dad, Jerry (Chris Cooper), who left the family before his mother passed on and the bitterness that has endured.
The story of Lloyd Vogel is based on journalist Tom Junod, who wrote a famous Esquire feature about Mr. Rogers in 1997. The movie delves into Rogers’ friendship with Junod or, as he is known in the film, Vogel, and we get a glimpse into their evolving relationship. Initially Vogel believes that Mr. Rogers’ is too good to be true and wants to find a skeleton in his closet or a weakness in his armor. Instead, he finds a genuinely – unusually – kind and sympathetic man that helps him begin to deal with his anger issues regarding his father. Vogel pries into Rogers’ relationship with his two sons, which Rogers admits wasn’t always perfect. His eldest son was embarrassed at times about being the son of the famous man in the neighborhood. At one point Vogel says, “It had to be hard for them to be your son.” Hanks as Rogers replies warmly and sincerely, “Thank you, Lloyd, for helping to give me that perspective.” It is both a touching and funny moment as Lloyd just can’t believe how kind Rogers is and seems ready to throw his hands up in despair. Yet it is this constant kindness that wins him over in order that Vogel might repair the relationship with his father.
The film operates between these worlds of imagination and the direction is compelling as we see both the inner drama of Vogel and the external truth of Fred Rogers’ neighborhood.
Mr. Rogers talks to his young audience about anger and forgiveness and there are plenty of examples in the film. Whereas the documentary featured several lessons for kids, such as not being racist or how to deal with anger, this film dramatizes the moments more in several behind-the-scene stories, mainly focusing on Rogers and Vogel. When Vogel is interviewing Rogers he asks what he does when he gets angry. Rogers says if he is playing the piano he bangs on the keys hard. “Booooonnnnggg!” he goes, replicating the angry notes his piano keys reveal.
Like the real-life Tom Junod, Lloyd Vogel changes his plans to write an expose about the “real” Mr. Rogers and writes a feature about the remarkable man he got to know, the man of warmth and kindness.
Both the documentary and film are to be treasured. The documentary gives us more of the lessons the man taught on TV. The film gives us more of the drama he often dealt with in rubbing shoulders with real and hurting people on a regular basis. It is wonderful that we have the documentary and now the film starring Hanks. There are a few uses of language in the film, to show the realistic frustrations of various characters. But as Vogel’s wife Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson) says when Fred Rogers visits their home, “Mr. Rogers is in my home!” We are all fortunate that because of the documentary, the new theatrical release, and DVDs, we can say it along with her. This wonderful film is a must see for the whole family and is Dove-approved for All Ages.
**Disclaimer: A few cuss words and mild responses are mentioned in the content ratings, but due to the powerful, positive overall message of the film, we believe that A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is Dove-approved for All Ages. Parents who would like to take small children to this film should discuss the language prior.