On Saturday, Jan. 11, Pollock Theater screened “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” (2019), a film directed by Marielle Heller and centered around beloved American children’s television host, Fred Rogers. The screening was followed by a discussion with Noah Harpster, a screenwriter and actor in the film, and moderator Matt Ryan.
The film follows reporter Lloyd Vogel, played by Matthew Rhys, and his experience writing an article on Rogers (played by Tom Hanks). Lloyd’s frustrations at being a father, his tumultuous relationship with his own father, and his hurt over his mother’s death have left him angry at most people and almost blacklisted him as an investigative reporter. However, his life changes when he is assigned to write an article on Rogers under the premise of writing about heroes for the magazine, Esquire.
Lloyd is cynical about Rogers’ lifestyle and character, and tries to focus on his negative attributes. However, Rogers maintains a calm and caring demeanor towards Vogel and eventually develops a solid relationship with Vogel. Learning about Rogers’ philosophies on life and teaching children helps Vogel come to terms with his anger at his father and his grief over his mother’s death, allowing him to make amends by the end of the movie.
The film was based off of the real-life relationship between Rogers and journalist Tom Junod, as Junod profiled Rogers in Esquire in 1998. As Noah Harpster explained in the Q&A following the screening at Pollock, Harpster and his writing partner were searching for people associated to Rogers when they stumbled on a multitude of letters sent by Rogers to Junod over the years. They went to archives in Pennsylvania to learn about Rogers while writing the screenplay and “found 250 letters over the course of five years after the interview.”
According to Harpster, this film was about ten years in the making before finally being approved. This came after Harpster was facing his own problems with fatherhood, put on an episode of “Mister Rogers Neighborhood,” and realized the impact that Rogers had on so many people. Harpster then spent years researching those around Rogers before writing the script without approval or rights to Rogers’ likeness, music, or show.
One of the key aspects of the film revolves around showing Rogers as a person and not the saint-like figure that the public deems him to be. Roger’s wife, Joanne, specifically requested that Rogers be shown as a person, because if he was portrayed as a saint, then the way he lived would be unattainable, defeating Rogers’ lifetime goal.
Lloyd’s character demonstrates the immense impact that one person can have on another’s life. In essence, it’s all that Rogers would have wanted: to show people that they deserve to be happy just by being who they are. If you’re feeling inspired and in the mood for a heart-warming movie, please go and witness the impact of letting someone into your neighborhood.