We’ve seen plenty of good movies released this 2019: from Avengers: Endgame, to Us, to Alita: Battle Angel, to John Wick 3: Parabellum, the box office has seen pretty good films that would give the Oscars and other movie awards an interesting year of competition. But 2019 is not done yet, and we can expect a few more upcoming films to wow us in the second half of the year. This includes Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Joker, and many more.
What I’m personally excited for is A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, an upcoming film about the iconic Fred Rogers, a man most remembered for his television series, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. While his name is no longer a household name for younger adults and today’s children, most American Baby Boomers and Millennials will remember sitting down to watch his show in a way that taught children at the time how to be better, kinder people.
The film not only brings a sense of nostalgia to those who remember Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, but based on its trailer and news about it, it’s a movie that offers entertainment and so much more when it hits the theatres. Here’s everything you need to know about A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood before it comes out later this year.
Overview: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
As of now, we know a few details about the upcoming biographical drama film. The movie is directed by Marielle Heller, who previously directed the critically acclaimed biographical film Can You Ever Forgive Me? in 2018.
The screenplay was written by writing partners Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster, who were listed on Variety’s 10 Screenwriters to Watch for 2018. They wrote the script for A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood years prior, but it made the Black List (an annual survey of screenplays that are “most liked” but not yet produced that often end up being critically-acclaimed or award winning films once picked up) in 2013.
In 2018, Sony’s Tristar Pictures bought the rights to the 1998 biographical film You Are My Friend, a similar film based on an Esquire article written by esteemed journalist Tom Junod about Rogers’ show. Filming took place in Pittsburgh as well as the original Fred Rogers Studio where Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was recorded. Filming ended late-2018 and the trailer was released this week, late-July 2019.
Award-winning actor Tom Hanks plays Fred Rogers, a beloved television icon to the children’s show. Opposite of him is Matthew Rhys, the lead male actor from the award-winning TV series The Americans. Rhys plays journalist Lloyd Vogel, a fictional character based on Junod, who is assigned to write a piece on Rogers. Following his experience, Vogel finds his cynical perspective on life changing as he learns from his encounter with Rogers.
Apart from You Are My Friend, a documentary last year entitled Won’t You Be My Neighbor? directed by Morgan Neville earned $22.8 million last year. So, while younger audiences may not know who Fred Rogers is, exploring the life of Mister Rogers seemed to do pretty well in the box office thanks to adults fascinated by their childhood icon.
Why You Should Watch It
If the trailer hasn’t enticed you with the nostalgia (it appears Hanks has nailed the role of Rogers – from his voice down to the way he puts on Rogers’ iconic cardigan and shoes), you may be interested in seeing Mr. Rogers from the eyes of more mature lenses.
We’re looking at Fred Rogers from the eyes of a cynical person who is determined to destroy the image of childlike innocence he is known for. In the trailer, Vogel’s wife (played by Susan Kelechi Watson) says what everyone over the age of 25 is thinking every time Hollywood tries to do play with our nostalgia: “Please don’t ruin my childhood.”
While it doesn’t seem like the movie intends to paint him as a villain with a dark side we knew nothing about (a big sigh of relief for people like myself who were once children and loved watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood), we’re not looking at it as a biopic of Rogers and his life as a children’s show host. Rather, we’re looking at the relationship between him and Vogel.
By the time of the film’s release, it will have been almost 20 years since Rogers’ TV series ended. In the span of that time, have we remained the kind children Fred Rogers wanted us to be, or are we the “broken” people like Vogel who need to be reminded that the world isn’t as jaded as we think it is today?
Fred Rogers and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood
Younger Millennials born in the later nineties onwards may not be familiar with Fred Rogers or his show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. He was known as the host of the children’s TV show which ran from 1968 until 2001. Prior to creating the show, Rogers was an ordained minister who did not like the way existing TV shows addressed children. Eventually, he started Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, which stood out for children during that time for many reasons.
Unlike TV shows at the time (and arguably, even until now), Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood presented Rogers at his most honest and remained real and open with children. While TV shows focused on mundane topics often left to children, Rogers wasn’t afraid to talk about more mature topics such as the Vietnam War, racial segregation, assassinations, divorce, and anger. At one point in the ‘70s, he even explained death to his young audience after the death of his goldfish. He didn’t believe it was right to lie to children, citing that children were smart enough to “spot a phony a mile away,” which was why he always tried to be himself when in front of the camera. He also did not approve of talking down to children or trivializing certain topics.
Each episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood followed a certain format. Each episode started with a shot of the neighborhood and a text that reads “Mister Rogers Talks About…” followed by the topic of the episode. Rogers enters his home, takes off his jacket and hangs it in his closet, puts on a cardigan zipper sweater, and changes his dress shoes for a pair of sneakers. During this segment, Rogers sings his iconic opening song, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”
Rogers always had a particular way of putting on his cardigan and shoes, making it a memorable part of our childhoods. Today, his red sweater is preserved in the Smithsonian Institution. After every episode, Rogers sings “It’s Such a Good Feeling” while wearing his dress shoes and jacket once more. He then ends the episode reminding his audience:
“You always make each day a special day. You know how: By just your being you/yourself. There’s only one person in the whole world that’s like you, and that’s you. And people can like you just/exactly the way you are. I’ll be back next time. Bye-bye!”
Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood had a total of 895 episodes over 31 seasons in its 33-year span. Aside from the iconic kids’ show, Rogers, would also appear in other shows for both children and adults. He has also written books for children, some of which talk about difficult topics like children’s first time moving houses, going to the hospital, visiting the doctor, or riding an airplane. There are even books talking about more serious topics such as adoption, divorce, and step-families. Rogers also wrote books for adults who wanted advice on raising their children, starting a family, or going through divorce.
Rogers remained married to one woman until his death and had two sons and three grandsons. He retired in 2001 and, a year later, was diagnosed with stomach cancer. He underwent surgery but died two months after the procedure in February 2003, a few weeks before his 75th birthday. In the span of his life, he received many honorary degrees, a Peabody Award, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom from former President George W. Bush.
Can You Say… Hero?
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood might not focus on Rogers’ entire life, but on the article written about him on November 1998 by Esquire writer Tom Junod. The article, entitled “Can You Say… Hero?” talks about Junod’s experience meeting Rogers and his notable moments. The article is quite long and Junod’s style seems to jump from one instance of their meeting to the next, but as you go through his piece, you begin to see the effect Rogers gave even to grown adults.
While it’s too early to determine whether A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood will be a box office hit that critics and audiences will love, the nostalgia of Fred Rogers in our childhoods is surely going to pull us to our theatres to watch the movie. If you’re not watching for the nostalgia of the man who painted a picture of a world built on kindness, watch for the interesting plot of a man popular for his positive view trying to change the perspective of another man who thinks the world is anything but.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood will be premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2019 and released in the United States on November 22, 2019 – just in time for the Thanksgiving season.