A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (aka You Are My Friend / I'm Proud of You) review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood isn’t so much the Fred Rogers biopic as it is an adult version of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. When I say adult, I don’t mean that it features more adult situations, though I’d certainly not recommend it for children. Many of the same lessons that Rogers taught us on television still fit within the lives of an adult as they did a learning child. Learning about simple things of words and numbers are lessons best suited for kids. Rogers’ teachings of kindness and honesty crossed generations.
This is what makes such a film resonate best with an audience who grew up watching the TV neighbor. He has a way of tapping into our feelings and finding warmth. When Tom Hanks first pops up on the screen as Rogers, that tearfully joyous sensation washed over me once more. The thought of someone being as gentle and charming with talking about anything is an indescribable sense of tenderness.
In this episode, as it were, Rogers wants to talk to us all about forgiveness. He introduces us to Lloyd (Matthew Rhys), a cynical journalist who isn’t happy with himself or his life. His home life seems distant as he’s unsure how to approach his wife (Susan Kelechi Watson) or his newborn child. His relationship with his father (Chris Cooper) has strained to the point where he wants to force his dad out of his life. And at this point in his life, he’s not exactly enthused to be given an assignment of interviewing Mister Rogers.
But Lloyd is astounded to discover what he never knew about Rogers; that the man on the screen is the same as he is in real life. The moment Lloyd pops on his studio set, Rogers drops everything he is doing to say hello. Nothing is more important to him at any moment than the person right in front of him who wants to speak to him, much to the chagrin of an impatient studio. Quite quickly, Lloyd soon learns that Rogers is no act. He fails at setting up a tent for an episode and rather than do another take or have the tent pre-made, he recommends the footage stays as it is. He wants to remain honest that not everything adults do always goes to plan and that this is okay.
What Lloyd discovers during his many talks is that Rogers is very selfless when it comes to conversations about himself. In their first discussion, Rogers is far more interested in how Lloyd got the scar on his nose than thinking of himself as a hero. Joanne, Fred’s wife, opens up a little more about Fred’s true self; he has a temper and he’s not perfect. If he were perfect, he wouldn’t be human and nobody would hope to be as good a person as he. It’s possible for all of us, even for someone as conflicted as Lloyd.
Though Rogers only plays a supporting role in the picture semi-based on the late 1990s article “Can You Say...Hero?” published in Esquire, his philosophy is palpable in trying to transform an adult. His words on not just for children. For years after his demise, his many interviews and archival footage touched me deeply, from his heartfelt plea to congress for funding to his award’s speech where he urges us all to think of those who loved us. A lot of nostalgic twinges are present in the picture but presented more like the important parts that make us better people.
This is a deeply meditative film that makes the eyes water for someone like Rogers to care about us that much. Easily the best moment of the picture is when Fred wants Lloyd to try his exercise of observing a moment of silence with our thoughts to think of all the wonderful people who brought us into this world and care for us. Fred is silent. Lloyd is silent. The whole restaurant they are at is silent. We’re silent. We’re left quiet with our thoughts, Fred staring at us hoping they’re happy thoughts. He thanks Lloyd and says that feels better. I felt better as well, once the tears were wiped away. This is without question one of the year’s best films.