By David Lee Zamora
Special to the Parade
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a sad but insightful film about death and forgiveness, that from the beginning hit me with immense nostalgia, only to put an ever growing lump in my throat that left me in a tearful state of happiness at the end.
To start off, this film is not a documentary or a fantastic telling of Fred Rogers’ life. In fact, Rogers isn’t even the main character. The film follows the life of Esquire journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) and his struggles as a new father and his hatred towards his father, Jerry (Chris Cooper), who abandoned Lloyd and his sister when their mother became ill with an unknown disease. However, Rogers, who is played by Tom Hanks, is an important character for Lloyd, helping the later with alleviating the anger towards his father.
The film starts like the beginning of an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood: he walks through the door and changes into his famous red sweater and blue shoes while singing the intro. Rogers then shows off some pictures of the puppets and cast of the show, then a picture of a man with a bruised and cut face looking sad. That man is Lloyd. Rogers then says that he would like to tell us Lloyd’s story,
From this scene, the film changes in more than one way. From there, we see Lloyd’s life as he fights with his father and gets assigned to interview Rogers. This interview sets in motion the rest of the events in the film, showing us Lloyd’s change and some insight on Rogers’ life.
One thing I love about this film is its mix of that odd, child-like feeling from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood show, and the realism of dealing with death and forgiveness that Lloyd’s character faces. This makes the film feel very unique: drawing you in with nostalgia then crushing your heart as if trying to make a diamond, and eventually leaving you feeling melancholy.
Tom Hanks’ portrayal of Rogers is incredibly uncanny. At times, viewing Hanks’ portrayal felt like the real Rogers, even though they don’t look or sound alike at all. Matthews’ performance sometimes actually outshines Hanks’ in several moments. I saw myself really connecting with him and his struggles.
In a strange way, for me, this film was like watching an episode of Mister Rogers Neighborhood, aimed at helping me, and making me rethink some of the things I’ve done in the past and how I’ll do things different in the future, which is something a lot of films try to do and can’t.