While audiences have grown accustomed to bonus features or teasers that play during the credits of action films, the crowd patiently filing out of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood was delightfully caught off guard when they saw closeups of hands placing the tiny models used to recreate the opening of Fred Rogers’ famous children’s TV show. The voice of the real Fred Rogers was singing, “You can make-believe it happens, or pretend that something’s true… But until you start to do it, you will never see it through…”, and everyone in the theater stopped where they were and watched, patiently letting another lesson sink in, embracing the slowness of the moment, in no hurry to return to our hurry.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a patient film, as patient as Fred Rogers himself, interpreted wonderfully by Tom Hanks. Yet Mister Rogers is not the main character, but rather he is the puzzle that perplexes writer Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), based on real-life writer Tom Junod, a cynical, hurting man who is convinced that Mister Rogers is a character played by a man named Fred Rogers, who surely can’t be that way in real life.
The film tells the story with a clever device, as an episode of “Mister Rogers Neighborhood”, introducing us to Mister Roger’s friend Lloyd, and using period perfect miniature cities to establish location, just as the TV show used a miniature neighborhood in its opening.
If the movie is to be faulted, it may be that it is too neat, too simplistic, the plot too resolved, to have it all hinge on the notion that, as Fred Rogers said, “Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable.”
Making it especially nostalgic and magical for me was watching the film with my seven year old daughter, whispering with her about why we should talk about feelings, and why the man fighting with his dying father is also learning to forgive, and therein discovering the simple hope that maybe, through kindness and understanding, our neighborhoods can have even more beautiful days.
Worth 6 of my 7 run-on sentences.