A beautiful day in the neighborhood is not a movie about Mr. Rogers. It's a movie about us.
Technically, it's about Tom Junod, a journalist who profiled Fred Rogers for Esquire 1998. The resulting article, "Can You Say … Hero?" crowns the trust of good deeds that Junod witnesses Rogers perform throughout the day, often simple acts with seismic effects on the people he meets. It ends with Rogers asking Junod to pray with him, a moment that changed his life completely: who he was as a journalist, as a father and as a man.
Matthew Rhys plays Lloyd Vogel, the fictional stand-in for Junod, a writer who is already fragile from his own cynicism that is almost broken by his dead father's attempt to reconnect with him shortly after his son. Tom Hanks plays Fred Rogers, the minister who became a TV host for children since the chair of hope for a struggling community, and also the person who saves Lloyd.
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It's a movie about how much Lloyd (and Junod) needed Mr. Rogers at that time in his life. It's about how much we need Mr. Rogers right now. It's about how much we need Tom Hanks right now. It's about how much we need a movie where Tom Hanks plays Mr. Rogers right now.
Directed by Marielle Heller (Can you ever forgive me?) and out on Friday it is a delicate portrait of an unlikely friendship. Lloyd can't get Mr. Rogers schtick. But he is convinced to spend time with him, to be a direct, personal benefactor of the icon's surprising worker-like investment in other people's well-being. They form a band that is nothing short of deep.
Along the way, the film highlights some truths that are generally good advice. Being unhappy doesn't make you more interesting. Being unforgiving does not mean that you are strong. It may be easier to motivate people by addressing their fear rather than their love, but it is not as productive. The emotions are manageable.
By virtue of the film's existence in this form – about Fred Rogers, at least in part, and starring Tom Hanks – it is also in itself a film about neatness and what it means to us today, if it means anything at all.
Of course, Tom Hanks is not only nice. He is a man, and people are not just one thing, especially if one thing is nice. But it's nice to think of him that way, even though we know we're stupid. Hr. Rogers was not only nice. But it was nice to think of him too. It's still nice to think of him that way. It's not stupid. It is necessary. What would we do if we found out that Mr. Rogers wasn't nice? Or maybe worse, Tom Hanks?
Part of the brilliance of Junod & # 39; s Esquire the article is how it made the point that yes, Mr. Rogers is a hero, but a hero is also just a man. In the film, when Lloyd & # 39; s wife learns of her mission, feeling his love for removing the piss from the people he profiles, she prays, "Oh Lord, Lloyd. Please don't ruin my childhood. "
Rogers was so sincere, without a little bit of irony, that people wondered if a sincere person could exist today. But Hanks, for most, is actually that person, which is what makes this such a great cast. Some skepticism, the fear of Lloyd's wife voting, comes with it. Journalists have spent Hank's entire career spunking for juicy gossip, desperate for a "gotcha" that would reveal some serious evil or scandalous vice tricked under Hollywood's nicest guy of all time, as if it was somehow more comforting to know he was a misogynist or a lousy drunk or something.
They have all come up short, as Taffy Brodesser-Akner discovers in her recently The New York Times magazine profile of Hanks, who can play in the same boxes as Junod's profile of Rogers did. He is really so kind, civil, generous and kind. In fact, a publicist even conveys concern that yet another story about how nice Tom Hanks is can be bad pressure, that something so boring and expected would hurt the film or reduce the execution of the excellent action and transformation he draws.
"It is in itself a film about beauty and what it means to us today, if it means anything at all."
But the profile has the same effect as "Can you say … hero?" Even when he confirms that Hanks may very well be a living saint, it makes the best case for him to be tangible, relatively relative. It is we who are so unfamiliar with basic decency today that we refuse to believe that a person like Hanks who shows neither can be a normal person.
Junod, or Lloyd in the film, is disoriented in suspicion when he meets Fred Rogers. The world with Mr. Rogers seems off his shoulder. In Lloyd's world there is chaos and pain and cynicism and anger and hatred. Worse, there are no tools to process these things. This world where Mr. Rogers is as good as he would be? Where does he have the tools to dig through the drowsiness and come out the other side? More is he willing to share them with you – insist on that, even? It shouldn't exist.
But Mr. Rogers exists in our world and also in Lloyd's world, which is its own disorienting fact. That's why when he was alive, as Junod says in his article, people would burn themselves with surprise. “Holy shit! It's Mister Fucking Rogers! "
IN A beautiful day in the neighborhoodFred and Lloyd ride the subway. After staring and smiling at him, the punters start singing on the train Mister Roger's neighborhood theme song. It is a moment so pure and so genuine that it should be awful, an incredible dramatization intended to emotionally manipulate and simplify our relationship with this hero. But that's not it. It's perfect, one of the best movie scenes of the year. (It actually happened, too.)
Although we briefly recognize that world. A world where strangers sing their show theme song to Mr. Rogers in the subway is not the world we think we live in now, where everything is so awful and so scary and almost everyone seems so awful. But it is our world nevertheless. The world we live in still has its beauty.
But it's Mr. Roger's ethos. He never pretended that the bad things in the world did not exist. His neighborhood was not fantasy. The good and the bad are together. What is important is how we handle it. "There's always something you can do with the crazy you know," he says. It takes Lloyd the whole movie to realize it and find out what to do with his own "crazy". When we look around at the intrusive nightmare that surrounds us, we wonder how long it will take us to find out now, too.
We are so hungry for beauty today that we have turned volatile examples of good things into obsession. It's the year for Lizzo, the hot priest, for Kelly Clarkson's "kellyoke," of the "sorry for this man" meme. We need reasons to be happy and we will milk these sources dry. Even the dull ones among us can no longer find fault with it.
That's it before A beautiful day in the neighborhood shown to critics and reporters in New York earlier this month, it was preceded by a message from Joanne Rogers, Fred's wife. She talks about how happy she is that the movie is coming out now, because she can feel that we are hungry for kindness. She also jokes about how happy Fred would have been played by Tom Hanks. In 2019, it's a collision of niceness and kindness that would be parody if it wasn't so necessary, so exactly right, so true.
Recent years' discussion about how necessary a person like Mr. Rogers is – and if it is even possible that there is another person like him, given how society has evolved and deteriorated – is in a way depressing.
There is a dissonance between Roger's most famous line – "Aren't you my neighbor?" And the times we live in, of extreme polarization, technology-induced isolation, bankruptcy for empathy and literal walls. His maxims like "I like you just as you are" are as radical as ever, when hatred is the social mantra.
Hr. Rogers after resurrection as some kind of rescuer is a reminder of how timeless hopelessness is. But that discussion is also somewhat encouraging. Maybe we can be fixed. It has happened before.
Until he sings the phrase in A beautiful day in the neighborhood, I've never heard or read Hanks say, "Aren't you my neighbor?" But it seems to be a version of what he has done in his career and by living up to his mythical reputation. His characters urge us to be empathetic, to discover the strength of humanity and the usual surprising power and to see ourselves in the struggles and triumphs of others. His public personality is a reminder that goodness is real.
Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers is in any way a public service. It is not only because it is refreshing that there is so much beauty on screen. It is a reminder of how, whether we have realized it or not, we can still be a little like that.