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How Accurate is "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood"? It's Not the Movie Fred Rogers Deserves

REEL FACE: REAL FACE:
Tom Hanks
Born: July 9, 1956
Birthplace:
Concord, California, USA
Fred Rogers
Born: March 20, 1928
Birthplace: Latrobe, Pennsylvania, USA
Death: February 27, 2003, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA (stomach cancer)
Matthew Rhys
Born: November 8, 1974
Birthplace:
Cardiff, Wales, UK
Tom Junod
Born: April 9, 1958
Birthplace: Wantagh, New York, USA

Questioning the Story:

Is the Tom Hanks Mister Rogers movie a biopic?

The film is not a traditional biopic, nor is it primarily about Fred Rogers, the creator and host of the long-running children's TV show Mister Rogers' Neighborhood (1968 - 2001), which aired nearly 1,000 episodes. Instead, the plot focuses on the real-life friendship between Rogers and cynical journalist Tom Junod (renamed Lloyd Vogel in the movie and portrayed by Matthew Rhys). The hard-hitting journalist reluctantly takes an assignment to write a profile story about the cherished TV icon for a special 1998 "Heroes" issue of Esquire. At first skeptical of Rogers, his perspective on life begins to change as Rogers helps him explore his own feelings, including his troubled home life and fractured relationship with his father. The real-life piece, titled Can You Say...Hero?, was published in Esquire in November 1998 and is included in the book A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: Neighborly Words of Wisdom from Mister Rogers.

Tom Hanks will portray Fred Rogers in the movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, from TriStar Pictures.



Did the journalist really get into a fistfight with his father at his sister's wedding?

No. "I did not get into a fistfight with my father at my sister’s wedding," said Tom Junod, the real-life journalist who loosely inspired Matthew Rhys character. "My sister didn’t have a wedding."



Was the unsavory, hard-hitting journalist Tom Junod really assigned the Fred Rogers story because his editors thought it would be amusing?

Yes. The A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood true story confirms that Junod's typical articles stood in stark contrast to the persona of Mister Rogers. "Indeed, I was assigned the story about Fred because one of the editors at Esquire thought it would be amusing to have me, with my stated determination to 'say the unsayable,' write about the nicest man in the world," says Junod, who was renamed Lloyd Vogel in the movie.





How closely is Matthew Rhys character, Lloyd Vogel, based on real-life journalist Tom Junod?

Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) is a heavily fictionalized and re-named version of journalist Tom Junod. While Junod says that Fred Rogers did see something in him that he didn't see in himself (namely that he was a good person), he wasn't the cynical journalist consumed by anger who Matthew Rhys portrays on-screen. One of the few similarities is that Junod did dress like his onscreen counterpart, often sporting a black mock turtleneck and an Armani blazer in the late '90s.

The relationship between Lloyd and his father and Lloyd and his wife is also fictional. Junod says that his father was in fact an eccentric, boozy philanderer, but he "had never rejected him or his message." Junod idolized his father, despite his shortcomings. As a result of these misrepresentations, Junod asked the filmmakers to change his own name and the names of his family members, which is how he became Lloyd Vogel in the movie. -The Atlantic

The A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood movie focuses on the true story of the friendship that developed between journalist Tom Junod (pictured in 2010) and Fred Rogers while Junod was writing a profile on Rogers for Esquire.



Is the journalist's relationship with Fred Rogers portrayed accurately in the movie?

For the most part, yes. Co-screenwriter Micah Fitzerman-Blue said that while the personal struggles the journalist experiences in the movie are fictional, his relationship with Fred Rogers is "very accurate," which appears to be true (minus the moments when Rogers is helping him with his personal conflicts). Tom Junod and Fred Rogers really did become that close. "He trusted me when I thought I was untrustworthy," says Junod, not long before the movie's release. "A long time ago, a man had seen something in me I hadn't seen in myself." -The Atlantic



Did all of the conversations between Lloyd (Matthew Rhys) and Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks) happen in real life?

No. While they did become close friends and have many exchanges - in person, on the phone and via email - the movie's conversations are mostly fictional. For example, at one point Matthew Rhys' character tells Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks), "You love people like me," to which Hanks as Rogers responds, "What are people like you?" Rhys answers, "Broken people." The real-life journalist, Tom Junod, admits that he was broken back then, but he says, "I had never uttered those words to Fred in my life." -The Atlantic



Is the Tom Hanks Mister Rogers movie partly based on the 2018 documentary Won't You Be My Neighbor?

No. The acclaimed Mister Rogers documentary Won't You Be My Neighbor?, which premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, was not part of the basis for 2019's A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood starring Tom Hanks. The documentary offers a much more comprehensive look at the life of Fred Rogers.

The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember is a New York Times Bestseller and just one of Fred Rogers more than 36 books.



Is Lloyd's wife based on a real person?

Matthew Rhys character, the cynical Lloyd Vogel, is only loosely inspired by real-life journalist Tom Junod, hence the name change. Lloyd's wife is mostly fictional as well. She was very loosely inspired by Tom Junod's real-life wife Janet.



Did the real-life journalist and his wife have a newborn baby?

No. In the film, Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) and his patient wife Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson) have a newborn baby. The real-life journalist and his wife did not have a newborn child. Tom Junod does credit Fred Rogers with giving his wife Janet and him the courage to adopt their daughter. However, that encouragement came during his last conversation with Fred Rogers, after which he and his wife began the adoption process. -The Atlantic



What is A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood's biggest error?

Fred Rogers' faith in God is integral to understanding who he was, yet it's mostly absent from the film. "Fred's faith in God was unshakable," says journalist Tom Junod, "and so was his faith in goodness itself." Junod, who loosely inspired Matthew Rhys character, says that Rogers was more overtly religious in his emails than he was in person or on his TV show. -The Atlantic



Did journalist Tom Junod and Fred Rogers remain close friends?

Yes. It was an "enduring" friendship that lasted from the moment they met in 1998 until Rogers death in 2003. Tom Junod indeed found himself opening up to Fred Rogers, asking him his "deepest and most troubling questions." They exchanged no fewer than 70 emails during the first year of their friendship alone. Rogers mostly wrote about faith, closing each email by telling Junod that he kept him in his thoughts and prayers. "And, I guess you know, each morning I pray for you; I really do." -The Atlantic



Overall, how accurate is A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood?

It's a question that fans were asking even prior to the movie's release. "How accurate is the Tom Hanks Mister Rogers movie?" Perhaps the film's biggest error is one of omission. In order to evoke who Fred Rogers was, the film focuses on how he helps a cynical, anti-social (largely fictional) journalist to understand his feelings and come to terms with his deep-seated issues. Mister Rogers' Neighborhood did this regularly with children, using puppetry, songs and straightforward talk to help children understand their feelings. While the movie's story offers an example of Fred Rogers' impact on people, we arguably don't get to know him any better than we already did.

By creating the story arc around the movie's largely fictional journalist, Lloyd Vogel, there's no time for an actual story arc about Fred Rogers. For instance, one that delves into his childhood, the creation of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, how he spent his three-year retirement before deciding to bring back his beloved TV show. And then there's the enormous influence of religion on Fred Rogers' life and career (he was an ordained Presbyterian minister but thought he could better spread a Christian message to young people through public television).

Christianity provided the foundation for Fred Rogers' message and it was the bedrock of his life. Yet, it's all but absent from the movie. Instead, the film focuses much of it's time on the skeptical Lloyd (Matthew Rhys) trying to figure out if Fred Rogers is the real deal. Is Mr. Rogers like his television persona, or is he an impostor? The problem with this approach is that the answer is already well established. "It is a truism by now that there was no difference between Fred Rogers and Mister Rogers," says Tom Junod, the real-life journalist who loosely inspired Matthew Rhys character (The Atlantic). Perhaps it's because I grew up in Pittsburgh, where Fred Rogers lived and his show was created, but no one I know has ever questioned his sincerity. Simply watch his 1969 speech before congress asking for funding for public television and it's on its own enough to erase any doubt.

Maybe the saddest truth about the film is that it is itself a reflection on today's largely secular society. To many, it's unfathomable how someone could be such a sincere, kind-hearted person. Why this is such a mystery to director Marielle Heller (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) and screenwriters Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster, and in turn their protagonist Lloyd Vogel, is perhaps the real question that needs exploring. In the end, we get a film in which Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks) is onscreen for only about half of the running time. Instead of spending more time exploring his "neighborhood" and what was at the heart of it, the true story of Fred Rogers is left all but ignored and Tom Hanks is underutilized in a role he was born to play.



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Fred Rogers Interviews & Related Videos

Dive deeper into the A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood true story by watching Fred Rogers testify before Congress in the video below as he attempts to secure $20 million in funding for PBS. Then view a trailer for the Fred Rogers documentary Won't You Be My Neighbor?



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