Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood
Yes, the documentary (ďWonít You Be My Neighbor?Ē) was just
released earlier this year, but that one was more about who Fred Rogers
was. This one is more about
what Fred Rogers did.
Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) is a feature writer for ďEsquireĒ
magazine, where heís known for being a hard-edged, hard-hitting
journalist who pulls no punches. That
reputation suits him just fine, but his editor is beginning to have
difficulty lining him up with any more celebrities.
So instead she assigns him to do a brief little piece about Mr.
Rogers Neighborhood. Yes, the
childrenís television show. Lloyd
complains that that isnít what he does, and his editor replies that he
will do what she tells him to do. So
he reluctantly makes the contact, and is flabbergasted to receive a call
back from Fred Rogers himself.
When Lloyd goes to keep the appointment, it so happened his sister
was getting married, again, the weekend before.
Lloyd didnít even want to go to the wedding because he heard his
father, Jerry (Chris Cooper) was going to be there.
Lloyd hasnít had anything nice to say to, or about, his father,
since he abandoned the family when his wife (Lloydís Mom) got sick.
Lloydís wife, Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson) tries to encourage
her husband to play nice at the wedding, but the anger quickly resurfaces,
and Lloyd winds up in fisticuffs. With
a black eye and a cut nose to show for it.
And thatís how he meets Fred Rogers.
Lloyd tries to pass it off as a softball injury.
But Fred gently pushes Lloyd, sensing that something needs talking
about. At first, Lloyd
resists. But Fred Rogers
quietly pursues the relationship, inviting Lloyd back on the set.
Trying to do the interview, Lloyd insists on asking questions about
Fred Rogersí life, like ďIsnít it a burden to have to carry around
this nice guy persona all the time?Ē Lloyd doesnít yet realize that
Mr. Rogers isnít an act, like Pee Wee Herman.
Fred Rogers is the same person outside the studio. Lloyd
doesnít want to discuss his feelings about his Dad.
But the perceptive Mr. Rogers realizes that the one thing Lloyd
doesnít want to talk about is the one thing he needs to talk about.
This is an interesting way to approach telling the story of the
strong cultural impact of this unique
television show ďMr. Rogersí Neighborhood.Ē
Yes, Tom Hanks bears an uncanny resemblance, and heís such a good
actor that heís got the mannerisms down.
But this isnít just about imitating or mimicking.
Itís providing us with a concrete example (based on the real-life
friendship with journalist Tom Junod) of the impactful way that Fred
Rogers affected people. Not
just kids, but adults, as well.
Thereís a great scene on a subway, where Fred and Lloyd are
riding together to Fredís apartment in New York City, and some people in
the subway car, noticing who was with them, just spontaneously start
singing ďItís a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,Ē the opening
theme song on the show, and soon everybody in the car is joining in,
including Fred. Whether or not
that actually happened, itís a fitting tribute to a man who touched the
lives of many with his kindness and gentleness.
Another significant moment in the film is when Fred and Lloyd are
at lunch, and Fred asks Lloyd to take one minute of silence with him, to
think about all the people who have loved him.
Soon the whole restaurant gets quiet.
And youíll probably not experience a longer silence in the middle
of a movie, either. But it
might turn out to be a positive emotional moment for you.
And thatís the kind of impact Fred Rogers had on people.
Sure, the movie is calm, deliberate, quiet, and soft-spoken, just
like the person itís about. Some
will even say itís silly and childish.
But they would be missing the point.
Itís about bringing out the child still residing in us all.