Won’t you 3.5 readers be my neighbor?
BQB here with a review of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.
I have to admit, 3.5 readers, that while Fred Rogers is deserving of a movie, I wasn’t sure if there was a lot of material there that would keep an audience’s attention for 2 hours. Did Mr. Rogers have any love triangles? Did he punch out any bad guys? Did he go on any wild car chases? Did he defuse any bombs at the last second?
No. He was just genuinely nice, and this film pays tribute to his way of life and how it helped others through a focus on one journalist who he helped in particular.
Matthew Rhys plays Lloyd Vogel, a jaded, cynical Esquire magazine writer who can barely get any celebrities to talk to him on account of his reputation for savaging his interviewees with biting criticism.
Assigned to profile uber nice guy and children’s television pioneer Mr. Rogers (Tom Hanks), Lloyd thinks this is a crap job. He initially sets out to crack Mr. Rogers on the belief that his personality is just a facade, a nice guy act designed to make money. Even his wife, Andrea (Susan Watson) begs her man to not “ruin her childhood” by running everyone’s favorite neighbor through the ringer.
Naturally, as the story progresses, it’s Mr. Rogers who cracks Lloyd, suffering Lloyd’s rudeness with a smile and eventually getting him to open up about his own demons. As it turns out, Lloyd carries a lot of anger over the fact that his father (Chris Cooper) cheated on his dying mother and abandoned the family in their time of need, leaving him and his sister (Tammy Blanchard) to grow up way too fast. Alas, Lloyd carries his anger on his back wherever he goes, always assuming the worst about everyone.
Though Lloyd is the focus of the story, the film pays tribute to Mr. Rogers in that we ultimately learn his main goal in life was to help people keep their cool. As we get to know Mr. R, we begin to understand that it’s not so much that he’s a wimp, it’s that he possesses a deep understanding that there’s a monster in all of us, and if we don’t channel it into positive ways, it will consume and destroy us.
For example, Mr. Rogers swims laps. He mashes his hands on the worst notes his piano has to offer. He writes letters to his fans and prays for them – individually and by name. If he meets you, he will not only remember you but your family’s names and will ask how they are doing with their specific problems when he sees you again. In short, he’s fully aware that life comes with all manner of pitfalls designed to drive us insane, but it’s his goal to help us figure out how to replace bad emotion with positive activity. Swimming laps, after all, is better than cooking meth or cheating on your wife or what have you.
There’s definitely pain lurking under Rogers’ surface. Hanks is able to show that with a look or mannerism. Like the rest of us, he’s not perfect. Unlike the rest of us, he’s not going to lose his mind over the flaws that are inherent in the human condition.
Some criticism – at times, the film feels like a stretch. Perhaps the best tribute to Mr. R is to give us an example of how he turned a man’s life around with kindness. However, there are times where I would have liked to have seen more Fred and less Lloyd. This scenario reminds me of the criticism lobbed at “The Green Book” for being more about musician Don Shirley’s driver Frank and how perhaps Don should have had the brunt of the focus.
But then again, Mr. Rogers probably wouldn’t care too much about the spotlight, as long as his positive message gets out.