I love Mister Rogers. Yes I know, hardly a controversial statement. Like millions across this great land, he was a vital part of my growing up.
I also really like Tom Hanks (also not controversial) and I gaze upon the career he has had with the utmost respect.
Mix those two together and what could possibly go wrong?
I entered A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood with the highest of hopes. So much so that I refused to watch the trailer, which based on social media reactions, sent viewers into a tear-filled tizzies.
Anyway, my thoughts?
Well, I have to be really honest here … I was kind of disappointed. Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the story that it was telling in many ways – but my initial reaction was one of confusion – like I had a hard time figuring out how to feel once the credits rolled. And Hanks’ portrayal of Rogers, while effective as a performance, did not fully register with me. Let me address the latter first.
Nothing like the real thing
It’s been several weeks now and I am still trying to figure out why it is I feel this way. Upon reflection, I have concluded that because Fred Rogers and his persona hold such a special place in my heart, it is hard for me to come to terms with an actual portrayal. Which is kind of ironic, since the film makes it a point to inform the audience, through the lens of the main protagonist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) that there is no daylight between the persona of Fred Rogers, public television presenter and the private citizen. What I do walk away with, is a strange comfort in accepting that Rogers was truly genuine in his thoughts, words and actions. Even if that confirmation comes by way of a semi-fictionalized accounting of a part of his life.
Whose story is it?
Now onto the source of my befuddlement. Because I did not review the trailer and had very little background on the true story which serves as the basis of the film. As a result, prior to the screening, I made some erroneous assumptions about what to expect storywise. To its credit, the film does do an adequate job to reveal that the central story is about Vogel’s relationship with Rogers and the impact on his life. But I also think that the film’s producers tried to have it both ways. In the promotion and even in the framing of the story, there was a heavy reliance on the Hanks/Rogers angle. The reality of the film is slightly different. In fact, Rogers primarily served as a conduit, a way through as it were, for Vogel to transform his world view. And of course, there is a resonance and beauty in that type of story. But my position then becomes if that were the case, maybe the narrative is best served with a little less emphasis on Rogers? I don’t know. Maybe I am being too harsh.
But in the end, don’t take my word for it
All that said, indeed – I am fully aware that there is a wider audience ready, willing and able to fully embrace A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood in a way I could not. But I am also sure there are at least a few other people who share my mixed feelings. For everyone, my recommendation would be to check out the various documentaries (including 2018’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor). This and other films paint a comprehensive and engaging portrait of the beloved Fred Rogers in his own words.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood was released nationwide this past weekend (November 22nd).