Film Review: A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood

Author: Kristina Cooper

Picture: Facebook

Film Review: A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood

It's a film which succeeds in its portrayal of goodness, says Kristina Cooper about Tom Hanks film "A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood."

I had never heard of “Mister Rogers”, until I saw the new film “A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood” directed by Marielle Heller and starring Tom Hanks, who received an Oscar nomination for the role. 

Fred Rogers, who died in 2003, is considered an icon in North America for the work he did as a children's TV presenter for over 30 years.

The film was inspired by an article, written by Tom Junod for Esquire magazine in 1998.

It follows a similar journey of discovery, by a fictional investigative journalist, Lloyd Vogel, played by Matthew Rhys, as he seeks to discover more about this national hero.

 A Show To Counteract Anarchy and Noise

The film opens with a re-enactment of how the actual Mister Rogers' show began. Rogers (Tom Hanks) enters the set, takes off his jacket, zips up his cardigan and puts on his sneakers while singing the theme song of the programme, entitled It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood.

It all feels very 1950s and folksy, so it is a bit jolting to realise that the popular series started and ran all through the psychedelic 70s for 33 years to the 2000s.

 It turns out that Rogers, who was a Presbyterian minister, went into children's television because he was concerned at the social effect the children's programmes of the era were having on the psyche of the nation's children with their anarchy, noise and visual bombardment of the senses.

As a producer, as well as a presenter, he worked with a child psychologist and sought, through his show, to bring calm and security to his young viewers.

Thus, despite the simple presentation, he tackled the serious issues they might face, such as bereavement or divorce, or simply having to go to the doctor's for an injection.

At a time when some white people refused to go swimming with black people, one of the regular characters on his show was an Afro-American policeman, with whom he would chat and interact.

Watch the trailer here:

A Modern Day Saint

As Vogel, in the film, seeks to discover the reality behind the smiling presenter's life, you become half afraid: will Rogers turn out to be another Jimmy Savile? Happily, the deeper the journalist digs, the more he realises that Rogers, although not the simple character he appears on the TV, is, in fact, a modern-day saint.

When he says this to Roger's wife, she dismisses this; not because it is not true, but because she feels it makes it seem that it is easy for him to behave as he does.  “He works at it,” she says.

Through the film, one gets little insights at how Rogers copes with the pressures of his life through prayer, swimming and playing the piano, all very subtly done.

The main protagonist in the film, however, is actually the journalist Vogel. He has lots of relationship issues, particularly with his father, whom he cannot forgive for the way he has treated the family. Through Vogel's interaction with Rogers, he becomes able to forgive. 

It is very difficult to make an appealing film about goodness, which is why so few are made, but this one, in its quirky way, succeeds.

After seeing the kindness with which Rogers treats everyone who crosses his path, I found myself wanting to be a better person myself. This is the effect of holiness, and the mystery of it, even in a film-it calls something forth in you, too.

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