Warning: The following contains spoilers for A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood.
Marielle Heller's A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood tells the true story of the real life friendship formed between iconic children's television host Mister Rogers and a sourpuss journalist - but while much of the movie is true, there are a few things left out. Two-time Academy Award-winner Tom Hanks dons the comfortable cardigan and sneakers, headlining a cast that also includes Matthew Rhys, Chris Cooper, Susan Kelechi Watson, and Enrico Colantoni.
Heller's follow-up to 2018's heartbreaking, true story drama Can You Ever Forgive Me? arrives in theaters roughly one year after Morgan Neville's documentary Won't You Be My Neighbor? reintroduced the world to Fred Rogers' loving and inclusive mantra. While the documentary itself was shockingly snubbed out of an Oscar nomination, Sony's latest true story production is seeking redemption for Mister Rogers; already, Hanks' portrayal of the storied TV personality has been buzzing with awards potential.
But while A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood may be based off of Tom Junod's extensive Esquire profile on Rogers, its journalistic roots may not have totally prevented the filmmakers from taking creative liberties with the story. That being said, here's how much of what takes place in the A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood true story actually happened - and how much didn't.
Mister Rogers' Family Life
Though Tom Hanks may be at the forefront of the cast, audiences who see A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood will quickly find out that Fred Rogers is not the main character of the film. Instead, its timely tale uses Mister Rogers' overwhelming kindness to conquer cynicism, specifically that plaguing disgruntled journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys). Because of this alternate focus, A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood rarely ventures through Rogers' personal life.
That being said, A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood thankfully finds room to include Rogers' charming wife of over 50 years, Joanne (played in the movie by Maryann Plunkett). For the better part of a century, Fred and Joanne's entertainment careers – he at the helm of the Mister Rogers' Neighborhood program and she as a touring pianist – may have sent them down divergent paths, but they always found time for their marriage; their long-lasting relationship was so important to Fred that when the White House called to tell him that he would be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, he initially declined the invitation because the date of the banquet fell on their 50th wedding anniversary.
Appropriately, Fred and Joanne can be seen in A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood partaking in a dual-piano duet, admirably observed by Lloyd. But given the timeline of A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood's events, planted during the later years of Fred's life, there is no mention or appearance from either of Rogers' children: James and John. That being said, the real Joanne, along with a troupe of Fred's closest companions (many of whom provided loving testimony for Won't You Be My Neighbor?), can be spotted in one heartfelt café scene. With Lloyd sitting across the table, Hanks' Rogers instructs both him and the audience to take one minute to remember all of the people "who have smiled you into smiling, talked you into talking, sung you into singing, and loved you into loving," just as the real man would so often do.
The Esquire Article
The Esquire article which brings Lloyd Vogel and Fred Rogers together did actually happen; as did the writer's fruitful transformation off the page. Written by Tom Junod - who also participated in Won't You Be My Neighbor? - "Can You Say...Hero?" was published by the same magazine in November 1998. A sprawling saga of Rogers' daily routine, between his consistent weight of 143 (which translates to "I love you" on the scale), shooting schedule, and intimate interactions with fans, the article also detailed Fred's early life, as well as the infectious effects his kindness had on the writer.
Interestingly enough, Heller's film lifts one incident straight from Junod's article involving other members of the neighborhood. Together and dressed in civilian clothes, Lloyd and Rogers hop onto the New York City subway, where a group of fellow neighbors recognize the television host. Initially sprung on by two young girls, a majority of the train car, representing a vast range of age groups, joins in on singing the program's intro tune, "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" to the pair - and Hanks even joins in on the fun himself. For the most part, this actually took place: Junod witnessed the patrons of a subway car recite the song to Mister Rogers on a subway. However, the film slightly altered the performers, as all of the singers in real life were actually little children; parents, teenagers, and police officers didn't participate in the tribute.
Similar to the fictitious Lloyd, however, the article was assigned to Junod as a simple profile. But after interacting with the subject, neither writer found the limited platform to be appropriate for the wealth of emotion they were experiencing. Both formulated extensive, several thousand word pieces; and both found their way onto the front cover of Esquire magazine.
Lloyd Vogel, A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood's central character played by The Americans' Matthew Rhys, is the film's version of Tom Junod, the Esquire writer whose life perspective drastically changed after compiling the Mister Rogers profile, "Can You Say...Hero?" While the name is nothing more than a pseudonym, like Lloyd, Junod himself was not particularly enthusiastic about doing a puff piece on a children's television host. But after a malicious article of his which attempted to out actor Kevin Spacey was met with scorn and criticism, Junod used the opportunity to revamp his journalistic reputation.
But that was only a small fragment of the benefits he received from the experience. In addition to adjusting his professional and public appearance, his cynical life perspective was drastically altered as well. And, as A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood illustrates, he and Rogers formed a strong bond, one that Junod would hold dear until Rogers' death in 2003.
That being said, there are plenty of other details in Lloyd Vogel's life that don't fall in line with Junod's. For example, much of Mister Rogers' investment in Lloyd rests upon his tumultuous relationship with his father (Chris Cooper). While Junod wrote that he learned the concepts of forgiveness and empathy from Rogers, the real journalist never got into a fistfight with his dad at a wedding, nor did his father ever abandon the family. In fact, Junod wrote an award-nominated piece for GQ ("My Father's Fashion Tips") that greatly detailed several interactions and guidances offered by his dad.
In addition to his father, A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood also messed with another facet of Junod's family: his child. In the film, Lloyd is a father himself, to a newborn baby. In real life, however, Junod and his wife weren't able to become pregnant - though the couple would later adopt their daughter, Nia.
- A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019) release date: Nov 22, 2019