I have to admit that I'm not part of the target audience for Marielle Heller's A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, which had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday. Not having been weaned on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, Fred Rogers' beloved children's program, which ran, with a few interruptions, from the 1960s to the early 21st century, my eyes don't tear up at the mere mention of his name or references to some of his puppet friends such as King Friday XIII and Daniel the Tiger. My taste in escapist entertainment enjoyed by children—although not necessarily made exclusively for them—is more aligned to the subversive humor of Chuck Jones' Looney Tunes than a program in which a kindly gentleman in a sweater issues bromides that seemed culled from the arsenal of a liberal Protestant minister (and Fred Rogers was in fact an ordained minister, although one who refrained from mentioning God on his program).
Like Morgan Neville's hit 2018 documentary, Won't You Be My Neighbor?, Heller's film is so besotted with Rogers that it's enough to turn the stomachs of the handful of misanthropes that don't view Rogers as a secular saint. Of course, even though I wasn't ultimately sucked in by Heller's attempts to avoid sentimentality, and found this well-intentioned movie disconcertingly maudlin, she was certainly determined from the outset to avoid certain narrative pitfalls.