Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, A (2019): Marielle Heller’s Triumphant Profile of TV Icon Fred Rogers, Starring Tom Hanks

The premise is simple, but the tale and its central character are not, in Marielle Heller’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, a captivating chronicle of the beloved TV icon Fred Rogers, perfectly cast with Tom Hanks.

Fred Rogers appears in Won’t You Be My Neighbor? by Morgan Neville, an official selection of the Documentary Premieres program at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Jim Judkis. All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or ‘Courtesy of Sundance Institute.’

Our Grade: B+ (**** out of *****)

The narrative is scripted by Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster, inspired by Tom Junos’a article “Can You Say … Hero?” published in Esquire magazine in 1998.

World premiering at the 2019 Toronto Film Fest, it is now theatrically distributed by Sony Pictures Releasing.

Lloyd Vogel, an accomplished Esquire journalist, attends his sister Lorraine’s wedding with his wife Andrea and newborn son Gavin. During the reception, he starts a fistfight with his father Jerry when Jerry taunts him over his family.

The next day, Lloyd’s editor Ellen assigns him to interview Fred Rogers for a 400-word article about heroes, and after a phone call with Rogers, Lloyd travels to the WQED studio in Pittsburgh to interview him. During the interview, the humble Rogers is dismissive of his fame and displays concern for Lloyd’s nose injury.

Meanwhile, Jerry apologizes to Lloyd for the fight, but Lloyd rebuffs Jerry’s attempt at reconciliation.

Determined to reveal Rogers’ true identity, Lloyd watches several of Rogers’ episodes from his show, but cannot find anything. When Rogers visits NY, Lloyd visits him in his hotel for another interview. in which Rogers dodges Lloyd’s questions and instead reminisces on raising his two sons.

Lloyd berates Jerry for cheating on his mother Lila while she was dying of cancer and orders him to leave, but Jerry suffers a heart attack and is transported to a hospital.

Lloyd then follows Rogers to his Pittsburgh studio, where he collapses of exhaustion on the set of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. Lloyd dreams about his repressed childhood trauma, in which he stumbles into an episode of Rogers’ show about hospitals, wearing rabbit ears and shrunk down to the size of Daniel Striped Tiger and King Friday XIII.

To prepare for his role, Hanks visited the Fred Rogers Center at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania for research in the Fred Rogers Archives[5] and also watched

Viewers may be familiar with the good 2018 documentary about the subject, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? But director Heller offers a fresh perspective by considering the creator of the popular TV show as sort of an antagonist, “who comes into someone’s life and flips it upside down through his philosophy and the way he lived his life,” based on their valid assumption that Rogers “doesn’t have the dynamic nature you need for a protagonist for a more conventional movie.”

Realizing the responsibility of essaying such a personality, Hanks plunges into the role, after conducting exhaustive research of watching hundreds of hours of footage of Rogers on set and behind the scenes.

The role of Lloyd Vogel, the jaded journalist assigned to profile Rogers for the magazine, is based loosely on journalist Tom Junod and his various encounter with Rogers.  As played by Matthew Rys, Lloyd serves as the viewer’s entry point into Rogers’ teachings.  Lloyd’s character development and growth as a new father encourages viewers to reflect upon their own familial responsibilities, as sons, husbands, and fathers.

On the surface, the family melodrama and its dramatis persona feel generic and overly familiar. For example, at first, Andrea, Lloyd’s wife, a public attorney, seems to embody a type, a career woman who faces challenges of her own as the mother of a newborn. And Jerry, Lloyd’s estranged father, appears to be familiar, a philanderer who cheated on his wife Lila and neglectful dad, who had abandoned his children.  But the characters are played by such good actors that each thespian finds nuance and color in making their scripted parts individualized and relatable.

It’s a tribute to the director’s subtle strategy and Hanks’ multi-nuanced performance that A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is inspirational in the best sense of the term.  Her is a hopeful movie, which offers poignant ideas and witty observations about acceptance and understating–of both self and others–without ever becoming an overtly ideological message movie.


Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers

Matthew Rhys as Lloyd Vogel

Susan Kelechi Watson as Andrea Vogel

Chris Cooper as Jerry Vogel