Our family went to the movie theater this weekend to see A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, starring Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers.
Fred Rogers has become popular in the last couple of years. And at first, I didn’t get it. As a kid, anyway, his show always ranked pretty low on my list. It seemed slow and boring, at least in my conscious memory. And during my adolescent years, it seemed “Mister Rogers” was more lampooned than lauded. As I’ve looked at Fred Rogers through adult eyes, however, I’ve come to see him as a visionary and a genius. Others talk about his kindness to children and his forward-thinking approach to race relations on Mister Rogers Neighborhood. But what’s really struck me, as I’ve learned more about the life and legacy of Fred Rogers, is the fact that there was a genuine, behind-the-scenes embodiment of loving his “Neighbor” that set Mister Rogers apart. So I was excited to see what glimpses of neighborly goodness this film might provide.
And it was definitely a different perspective: much more singular and focused. The newly-released film is based on the true story of an article written for Esquire Magazine in 1998: Tom Junod’s “Can You Say… Hero?” It follows the investigative journalist’s approach to interviewing the creator of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. The reporter is named “Lloyd” in the film version of the story, and he starts with suspicion and cynicism. His every interaction with Fred Rogers is gruff and guarded. Over time, however, Lloyd drops his guard and finds himself powerfully affected by the way Fred loves him. By the end of the film, Fred proves to be a neighbor to Lloyd at a very profound level. And it’s a very satisfying story arc.
It’s worth noting, however, that A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a very different kind of movie. Its volume and cadence are perhaps most notable. The film is noticeably quiet. And slow. There’s a full minute of silence at one point. The film takes its lead from the real-life persona of Fred Rogers himself, and I like that. But it’s unique. Tom Hanks plays the lead role better than I expected. His acting just blends into the background, and he somehow becomes Fred Rogers. Everything about the movie casts Mister Rogers in a positive light. But I also really appreciated the moment when the reporter asked Joanne Rogers (Fred’s wife) what it was like to live with a saint. She responded with grace but correction, saying something to the effect of, “He’s not perfect. But he works really hard at it.”
This movie didn’t make me cry like the documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (and honestly, if you’re only going to see one movie themed on Mister Rogers, I’d actually recommend the documentary over the feature film). But it did deepen my appreciation for Fred Rogers and make me wonder how I, too, can practice loving my neighbors like Mister Rogers did.