A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood
PG, 150 minutes
Starring: Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Chris Cooper
Imagine you were the most important person in the world, right now, just as you are.
Apparently, American kids TV host the late Fred Rogers made everyone he met feel just that way.
He was the kind of man – so this film depicts – who would ask how you were and then stop to hear … really hear … your answer.
If you only know the name of Mr Rogers as the butt of jokes that – like the Brady Bunch – show impossibly well-adjusted people who have everything work out well for them, you’re not alone.
One of the questions of the movies is actually whether Mr Rogers deserves the ‘hero’ profile: is he just a hokey kids show host or a much-beloved children’s television legend.
The casting should suggest which way the movie leans.
America’s most beloved man Tom Hanks playing America’s other most beloved man Fred Rogers.
The setup of the movie is quite straighforward. Hard bitten magazine writer Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), who fancies himself an investigative journalist, has been asked to write a 400-word profile on an American cultural hero. But his reputation for character assassination means that only one person – Mr Rogers – has agreed to speak with him.
The subtext here is that Vogel’s career is at an end, so the Mr Rogers interview is a make or break moment.
The clever device of the movie is that we’re not sure who is the subject of the movie – Mr Rogers or the person interviewing him, Lloyd Vogel. Spoiler alert, it’s the interviewer – but through that we get to see how Mr Rogers showed his particular brand of care for everyone he met.
We follow Vogel through the ups and downs of his relationship with his estranged father (Chris Cooper) – with Mr Rogers along for the journey offering just the right look, just the right question and just the right advice.
In his 30-year TV career, Mr Rogers encouraged people – and we’re talking about kids here – to be able to identify their feelings, name them and then deal with them.
His message – or mission, really – very simply, was to give kids a way to deal with their feelings … without hurting anyone else, or themselves.
It appears his advice works just as well on adults, too.
Is it hokey and too saccharine sweet? It is.
Is it also rich and deeply meaningful and … beautiful? It is.
Leave your cynicism at the door. Go in with kids eyes and a sense of wonder and just enjoy.
– Andrew Cantwell