A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019)
November 22, 2019 6:15 PM - Subscribe

After a jaded magazine writer is assigned a profile of Fred Rogers, he overcomes his skepticism, learning about empathy, kindness, and decency from America's most beloved neighbor.

A long time ago, a man of resourceful and relentless kindness saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. He trusted me when I thought I was untrustworthy, and took an interest in me that went beyond my initial interest in him. He was the first person I ever wrote about who became my friend, and our friendship endured until he died. Now a movie has been made from the story I wrote about him, which is to say “inspired by” the story I wrote about him, which is to say that in the movie my name is Lloyd Vogel and I get into a fistfight with my father at my sister’s wedding.

Mr Rogers Changed Tom Junod's Life. Here's the True Story Behind A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

NY Times Review: “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” celebrates the virtues of patient listening, gentleness and the honest expression of feelings. It’s about how a man who has devoted his life to being kind helps a man with a professional investment in skepticism to become a little nicer. The appeal of such a movie at the present moment is obvious enough, and so perhaps are the risks. This modest, quiet story — based on a magazine article published more than 20 years ago — could easily have turned into something preachy, sentimental and overstated.

NPR Review: "'A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood': Can You Say 'Sincere' And 'Heartening'?"

Variety Review: "Here’s a confession: Although Tom Hanks is one of my favorite actors, and I got caught up in the skewed homespun mystique of Mister Rogers thanks to last year’s sublime documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,” when it was announced that Hanks would play the cardigan-sweatered children’s TV legend in a new dramatic feature, I wondered, frankly, if the casting was right. Hanks has always been at home playing fast-break wise guys; even when he inhabits a character as innocent as Forrest Gump, there’s an alpha directness to him. I wondered if Hanks would be gentle enough to play Fred Rogers. But as Mister Rogers himself might have asked: Why did I ever doubt that Tom Hanks could be my neighbor?

This Tom Hanks Story Will Help You Feel Less Bad: Hanks is playing Mister Rogers in a new movie and is just as nice as you think he is. Please read this article anyway. (NY Times)
posted by ChuraChura (11 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I went to see this yesterday on a cold, dark Sunday far from home. I remembered the Esquire article though I'd read it in an different life. Yesterday I needed "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood".

Thank you ChuraChura; I don't know if there is much discussion to be had here but this is an exquisitely crafted post. I hadn't read The Atlantic article and the framework of supporting links - already excellent - is all the better for it.
posted by mce at 12:42 PM on November 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

I adored it. Tom Hanks really surprised me; I would have given it to Jack McBrayer. But Hanks did it perfectly.

What struck me in particular was how mindful Mr. Rogers was. The concept of mindfulness is beginning to get a backlash from misuse, and that's understandable, but Mr. Rogers was fully present where he was and when he was with people. The first time he had a conversation with Lloyd, he said: "Do you know what the most important thing that I'm doing right now is? Talking to Lloyd Vogel."

I don't remember if this was a quote, but it might be. He had a handler specifically to keep him from staying with all the people who wanted to talk to him! And he was fully present in the grocery store! Can you say that? I can't.

Possibly there is some knockoff book called "The Zen of Mr. Rogers" or something that goes into this, but I don't suppose it's necessary when you have what he's written and created.
posted by Countess Elena at 10:07 AM on November 27, 2019 [3 favorites]

I thought it was a bit slow, but I did really like how Tom Hanks portrayed Mr. Rogers are simultaneously patient with questions and adept at redirecting questions. Overall--and I realize it's perhaps unfair to compare--I preferred Won't You Be My Neighbor?, the documentary.
posted by TwoStride at 1:03 PM on November 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

I knew five minutes in that this would be an abusive parent redemption narrative, and sure enough, it was, and I'm just . . . so disappointed that it was exactly what we got, because it feels like a betrayal of the Mister Rogers who taught me that it is, in fact, okay to express my feelings (and I learned this from him as an adult). The idea that we must stay present and captive by people who fundamentally abuse us, even as they continue to act in provocative, destructive, and disrespectful ways is just so Hollywood and so contrary to what Mister Rogers taught children. The scene in which Lloyd begins to express his anger at his father and his father immediately has a heart attack seemed especially egregious to me. This was a movie that danced around the idea of anger and fear but seemed very afraid of hearing the more complex emotions that were being explored, instead defaulting to the saccharine notion of "forgiveness." It also fell back on depicting Rogers in saintly ways, despite the lip service to the idea that he was human, the hints that he had a temper. The infamous tent scene, for example, didn't air on the actual show (though the idea espoused by fictional Rogers here is lovely) but was cut and Rogers was considerably more angry in the actual clip; he was known to do things like accidentally curse on set and show real frustration, beyond the toothless portrayal here, and that's part of what makes him interesting and powerful. This movie dances around the idea--the scene where Lloyd asks him about his sons, and Fred passive aggressively asks about his father in seeming-retaliation--was compelling, but the movie never commits to this in a way that creates depth. Plus, the script was kind of . . . a mess? What exactly happens to Lloyd in his final visit to Pittsburgh? What happened to Old Rabbit? The movie doesn't care and I liked the stylistics of it but it's all in service of a story that is just . . . so . . . urgh. Let's all have a drink with our alcoholic, neglectful parents, I guess. Because ✨forgiveness✨. Because they're ✨close to God.✨ God.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:12 PM on November 29, 2019 [7 favorites]

It seems almost sacrilegious to say so, but... I didn't care much for this movie. I read a lot of reviews about how perfectly Hanks captures Mister Rogers, but I don't agree. Hanks seemed to have just a tiny hint of a southern accent in his voice, that Rogers never had; it's true that Rogers spoke slowly, but Hanks seemed to speak even more slowly. There were a few moments when he seemed to me to truly capture Rogers — on the subway when everyone starts singing, for one — but more often than not I was aware that I was watching Tom Hanks, not Fred Rogers. Perhaps I'm being too demanding here, expecting a verisimilitude from Hanks that I would not from other actors playing other real-life figures, but what I saw was not what I had expected to see based on what I'd read.

I don't think the conceit of the movie, that it's at some points presented as an episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, really works either. It bookends the movie, with Rogers talking about Vogel on his show, and is seen in the transitions where Pittsburgh and New York are presented as extensions of the model of the Neighborhood, but otherwise is largely ignored. The movie should either more fully commit to that conceit, or else drop it entirely.

I found myself comparing this movie to The Soloist, which I enjoyed when I saw it, but hadn't thought about in a while. A flawed journalist meets a person of almost otherworldly goodness and innocence, and is transformed by their interactions with that person. (I was going to write "cynical" rather than "flawed" there, but that's not quite right. Robert Downey's character in The Soloist isn't cynical; in fact, he's still overly idealistic about the power of journalism to change the world. That character's flaw is that he's arrogantly idealistic, focused on his power to improve the world through journalism.) But I felt The Soloist struck a good balance between showing us Nathaniel Ayers's (Jamie Foxx's) character and Steve Lopez's (Downey's) emotional journey, but here I found myself not caring that much about Vogel's relationship with his father, and the film too rarely (as when Rogers speaks about his sons) told me anything new about Rogers.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:13 AM on December 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

How Big Bird saved my marriage and let me bury my father without guilt.
posted by adept256 at 5:06 AM on December 31, 2019

I watched this back to back with the documentary and it made me very sad, and reminded me how much I miss my parents (who are alive and live on the other coast and whom I speak with every evening). My mother and I and my sister watched the show together more or less every single day when it was age appropriate.

My sister is dead now, more than thirty years ago, at 21. I’m adopted, and have an adoptee’s sensitivity to and irreconcilable experience of loss. My parents, and Fred, were deeply committed to providing me, and my sister, with the tools needed to maintain composure and compassion and analytic capacity when under extremity. Their tools are in my hands, and I am grateful to them, but they are insufficient to the task, which I suppose might inform Fred’s faith, and that of my parents.

My wife’s family are Cuban emigres, and she is the only one born in the States. My family’s focus was on asserting emotional control. Her family’s experience has at times been of living in a world beyond control. Her family’s socialization is one in which everyone talks at once and has loud expressions of emotion, positive and negative. Mine is one in which one is quiet until one cannot be.

Early on in our relationship, I found myself repeatedly baffled by what I took to be pointless and hurtful verbal rages from my now-wife. I now understand her to have been responding to my silence and self control as my attacking her. In order for her to feel seen, respected, protected, and responded to, it was (and remains) necessary for me to respond with exactly calibrated emotion, usually negative, often shouted. It is not a negotiable aspect of my expression of care for her. I always feel like shit afterward.

My parents and Mister Rogers did prepare me to love unconditionally. But they did not prepare me for the world that I live in.
posted by mwhybark at 7:15 PM on January 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

I was a little annoyed that they signaled "abusive parent" pretty strongly but then did a switcheroo to non-abusive abandonment dad where the alcohol wasn't really a problem.

Fortunately there was more than that going on in the messages they had Movie Fred give. They focused heavily on creation of emotional agency and taking more control over one's personal growth and the idea of trying to think of the love one has received, or at least accept that some good things have resulted. None of these things necessarily lead to reconciliation, not even forgiveness does. So I think there is still some emotional depth in the stuff aside from the actual plot with the Vogels.

It did leave unhappiness in, too: "Whatever can be mentioned can be managed," is what Movie Fred repeats when he's with the Vogel family. To me, from my family, where there's things that certainly cannot be mentioned, that was a little chilling. And the movie also makes clear that Movie Fred has no one to talk to; pounding clay and swimming and slamming the low keys on a piano don't count as mentioning. And so it ends with him alone in the dark.
posted by fleacircus at 7:47 AM on March 10, 2020

I didn't like this at all. I'm fine with Hanks -- he was a little uncanny valley Mr Rogers -- but I hated the "just forgive him and reconcile before he dies!" story very deeply, I hated that we were supposed to think his wife did the right thing by inviting his estranged father over to meet his new kid, I hated, honestly, that we were supposed to care about another redemption narrative of boring white men. I think I mixed up the reviews for this movie with the ones for the documentary, perhaps.
posted by jeather at 9:17 AM on July 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

I was with Lloyd in his initial reaction to Fred. It would have made me just as angry as it made him to have Fred try to dig around in my feelings when I was trying to do my job by interviewing him, let alone talking to me via his fucking puppets. I found the forgiveness lesson Fred was trying to teach Lloyd to be too pat and too saccharine. But Fred grew on me somewhat as the movie progressed, just as he grew on Llloyd, which I suppose was the point.
posted by orange swan at 6:11 PM on November 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

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