It took a decade for screenwriters Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman-Blue to bring their passion project, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” to the screen. But the wait was well worth it as this heartwarming film about the unlikely friendship between TV icon Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks) and a journalist (Matthew Rhys) is generating plenty of Oscar buzz.
The red-hot writing team won a Peabody in 2015 for their work on “Transparent.” One of the directors on that Amazon TV series was Marielle Heller, who was immediately taken with their idea for a film about Fred Rogers. She in turn helped them land Hanks. The two-time Oscar winner had been their first and only choice to portray this Emmy-winning legend. “We had always thought of him but he had already said no. She said, ‘Give me a shot to see if I can get him.” And she got Tom Hanks in our movie.”
Harpster got the idea to make a movie about Mr. Rogers when he saw how transfixed his two-year-old daughter was when she watched him on YouTube. “She wouldn’t listen to a word I said and in a moment of desperation I put on a clip of ‘Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.’ She listened to him in a way she had never listened to me.”
The writers quickly realized that they didn’t want to make a traditional biopic. After Joanne Rogers gave them access to her late husband’s archives by asking that they not make her husband a saint, they found their way into telling his story. “Fred Rogers is not an ideal subject for a traditional biopic. He was unwaveringly awesome and consistent for 73 years. So we looked at the people around him.”
For Fitzerman-Blue, the film has had unexpected results. “My wife said you have made a movie about kindness and empathy when there is so much cynicism and darkness in our world. I had a good friend who went to the premiere. He is a new dad but he hasn’t spoken to his own father since the baby was born. When I asked him what he thought of the film, he said, ‘I called my dad today.’ That’s my review.”
Sony is releasing “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” on November 22, just as awards season kicks into high gear. Do you think that Harpster and Fitzerman-Blue will reap their first Oscar nomination. Make your predictions for Best Original Screenplay below.
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