Tom Hanks Matthew Rhys Susan Kelechi Watson Chris Cooper Christine Lahti
In this film, “Mr. Rogers”, the television personality is portrayed as someone who will change the life of a reluctant expository journalist sent to interview him for a “hero” piece in a magazine. Lloyd Vogel (Rhys) is shown to be absolutely myopic and abrasive in human interactions (and in his writings), even with his wife Andrea (Watson) and their infant child. But after his abbreviated times with Rogers, he makes a miraculous transformation.
I think I understand what the filmmakers had in mind in making A Beautiful Day, which is to show how effective Mr. Rogers as a television personality could be in the real world with a grown-up. But having had some personal interactions with the real Fred Rogers, and from my experience of the show when my daughter as a young child was transfixed by it, I came away from the movie rather taken aback. This is a completely fanciful account of Mr. Rogers and the way in which he related to people outside his show.
To be specific, when I was a psychologist in Pediatrics at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, we invited Fred Rogers to our annual Mental Health Conference1. He came and gave a moving presentation about how he worked with kids. During his stay, we had a number of conversations with him. I want to say that at no time when he talked with us as adults, did he use the same tone as he did on his show with children or use a style of probing someone's psyche, as is shown in this film particularly when talking to the journalist Lloyd Vogel.
My misgivings with the film have mostly to do with the dialog. Writers Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster have written dialog that sounds artificial, as if someone who isn’t Mr. Rogers is trying to sound just like him, and then applying it unrealistically. The real Rogers—or anyone with psychological sensitivity—would not ask probing questions of a journalist as if he were the man’s therapist. Fred Rogers was much more sophisticated and psychologically informed than that.
As far as the acting, Tom Hanks does a marvelous rendition of Fred Rogers’ manner, voice, and demonstrative concern. Even his singing is engaging. It was especially provocative to see Matthew Rhys (such an astute, insightful character in “The Americans”) come across as an acerbic, obtuse character who seems completely ignorant of everyday niceties and needs of others. The rest of the cast including the always effective Chris Cooper as Lloyd’s father and Susan Kelechi Watson as his wife are top-notch.
In my way of thinking, the writers and director Marielle Heller should have gotten more consultation about the essence of Fred Rogers and his “Neighborhood” show before embarking on the project. Their backgrounds in Can You Ever Forgive Me, Maleficent, and A Walk among the Tombstones are not adequate preparation and experience for a movie about a master of subtlety and guidance of children.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is not likely to encourage reminiscences about Mr. Rogers or his show for children.
Grade: D By Donna R. Copeland
1Rogers, Fred. Growing with Children. In Donna R. Copeland, Betty Pfefferbaum, Allison Stovall (Ed.) The Mind of the Child Who Is Said To Be Sick. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas. 1983, pp. 5-12.