Neighbourliness Dressed Up As Wisdom #filmreview #abeautifuldayintheneighbourhood

Watching a recent film on my sofa with Dog’s muzzle leaving an embarrassing stain on my lap, I wondered if the mellowness of being in my safe space might change the way I see film. Make me softer, more forgiving?

Nah.

The Textiliste and I had intended to see A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood when it came out but, you know, life… So we chiselled out some of our unspent readies and sat back to see if it lived up to the praise that has been showered on it.

For those unaware, it’s a simple piece that views one of Anerica’s national treasures, Fred ‘Mr.’ Rogers through the eyes of a hard-bitten investigative journalist, Lloyd Vogel, who’s dispatched, much to his surprise to do a puff piece on this TV icon.

Vogel, nicely played by Welsh actor Matthew Rhys is cynical and wonders if Mr Rogers, beautifully captured by the ever-competent Tom Hanks can really be as good as his screen persona.

The film, in truth is more about Vogel and his demons than it is about Mr Rogers. Like a lot in the UK I had but the vaguest idea who Fred Rogers was and his importance in the group-think memory of American childhood and, if I’m honest, I’m still pretty much in the dark as to what makes him so revered.

In the film his enigmatic – not to say obscure – homespun philosophy has a huge impact on Vogel and helps him see himself and his relationships in a different light. It’s upbeat, a bit smaltzy and has overtones of It’s A Wonderful Life – not that that makes it a bad film. Vogel’s journey, through the catalyst of Rogers opaque talking therapies and some odd, almost narcotic dream sequences is rather trite.

No, for a film about the journalist it’s the occasional insights into Rogers that has left the biggest impression – maybe that should be questions. At one point Vogel’s wife, when she hears about his assignment, expresses the fear that he’s not about to destroy her childhood – the implication being he will tear down the edifice of smiley niceness and reveal the real Rogers as some sort of money-obsessed charlatan or worse child-preying creep.

He doesn’t but for all that there are times when you have to wonder what the director and Hanks intend. There a sequence where Vogel is posing some tough questions which Rogers turns back on Vogel by talking to him through his childhood puppets. It’s beyond weird, if you ask me. It’s one thing to remember what it felt as a child, to empathise with children through the prism of your own experiences and quite another to seek that through the medium of reverting to a childlike state. There’s role play and there’s infantilisation.

We never know Rogers. He’s cast as the enigma it seems he’s always been. I still think there’s a lot of front to him; maybe I hoped Vogel would be the little boy with the emperor and his new clothes, because eventually Vogel’s redemption takes precedence and we never find out about Rogers and what led him to be the man he is portrayed as being. Which is a shame. But then again, as someone who loved a national treasure in Rolf Harris when I was a kid, only to have him unmasked as a predatory paedophile, I’d not willingly want anyone else’s childhood memories trashed (now, before anyone goes off on one, I am NOT suggesting Fred and Rolf are in anyway comparable…)

So, as I sponged down my fly and let Dog out for his final attempt to burn off the whole of my top lawn, I mused that I’d enjoyed the film and would recommend it as an easy watch. It’s just a bit too much like so much Chinese food. It seems to be filling at the time but it’s not long after that you start to feel peckish and needing more…

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published four books - Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, My Father and Other Liars, Salisbury Square and Buster & Moo. In addition I have published three anthologies of short stories and a memoir of my mother. More will appear soon. I will try and continue to blog regularly at geofflepard.com about whatever takes my fancy. I hope it does yours too. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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31 Responses to Neighbourliness Dressed Up As Wisdom #filmreview #abeautifuldayintheneighbourhood

  1. Mary Smith says:

    I sort of vaguely knew about Mr Rogers but not sure I’d be keen enough to watch this.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. M. L. Kappa says:

    Yes, I’m not really tempted…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A no doubt sound review of a film that I am not likely to watch

    Liked by 1 person

  4. noelleg44 says:

    I never watched Mr. Rogers – he came along too late for me. However, he is quite the icon here, and nothing has ever been revealed that tarnishes his image. I’ve avoided this movie because it looked too nicey-nicey.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I LOVED Mr Rogers as a child. Watched his show every day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      And I understand why what I wrote might jar with that because all I know is this movie and Hanks’ interpretation. He clearly left a remarkable impression on many and for that he is to be congratulated. For me, though, he remains enigmatic, because it’s tough, in the light of so many disappointments not to worry that that enigma hides something. As I’ve just said to Pauline if someone decided to diss David Attenborough, the ultimate national treasure here, I’d be up in arms, so Cherie you sock it to me!!

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Darlene says:

    America could use a few more Mr Rogers right now.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Ha! I watched this movie a couple of nights ago. My daughter had requested my thoughts because like most kiwi’s we know nothing about him – but I had been involved in a couple of conversations about him while visiting American friends who all revered the man. My daughter expressed the thought that she had found something ‘creepy’ in him but the story line never confirmed this intuition. Watching it confirmed a notion I have about American culture and its ‘Life is perfect’ presentation. Mr Rogers talked to kids about the stuff that wasn’t when nobody else would. Mr Rogers loved them just as they were. Mr Rogers knew that sometimes nice people did stupid things and that didn’t make them bad or stupid. Mr Rogers knew when a kid had a bad day and what to do about it. Mr Rogers became the perfect parent when real parents weren’t. Who of us, after all, can claim to being the perfect parent?

    And the film conveyed the point that Mr Rogers could open a closed adult soul too and help hurt the pain inflicted by a parent. Personally I was quite glad to see those puppet sequences because, while slightly odd and uncomfortable for an adult to view, it helped me understand how all those American children related to Mr Rogers and how Mr Rogers got his message across to them. (And also, let’s not forget that when an adult is in crisis, its the child in them that needs comfort and empowering – no better way than to speak directly to that aspect of self.)

    The ‘creepy’ bit, I think, came from dear Mr Hanks playing of the man. Now Tom has never been a classicially handsome man and it seems his face has become a bit squiffy with age. One eye is permanently half closed – perhaps damaged in some way? – and the amount of makeup needed to transform him into the part was obvious. This and the off-setting of his features and his always unusual mouth meant he could not physically portray the open sincerity of the revered Mr Rogers.

    Critiquing the performance of the revered Mr Hanks in this way seems almost as unpatriotic as inferring the revered Mr Rogers to the unlaudable Australian 😀 Anyhoo – that’s my thoughts on the movie.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      That’s an entirely fair summation and I do understand the notion that he dealt with things that, back in the day, Parents often ignored or found too hard. But I’ll never feel entirely comfortable of someone who offers up his persona that he uses with children to an adult and expect a similar response. That’s the ‘creepy’ element. You need to consider who your audience is. And my sense was he didn’t, or at least maybe the real Mr Rogers did and Hanks character failed in that test. Because all I know is the Hanks portrayal it’s a one dimensional view I have. I suppose if someone started suggesting that David Attenborough was creepy I’d have a few choice words to say too!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. As supplement (antidote?) to this film, I recommend *both* “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” and “Mister Rogers and Me.” Both are documentaries from slightly different perspectives that complement one another and give a more rounded view of a man who, for all his public visibility, was a very private person.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      I really should watch because it’s apparent the one dimensional view I’ve taken away from Mr Hanks portrayal possibly does him a disservice…

      Liked by 1 person

      • I had the advantage of having seen both documentaries before I saw “It’s a Beautiful Day,” so my own mind filled in many of the gaps you mention. Plus I have the additional advantage of having grown up with Mr. Rogers (and my children as well). Without such additional background, I can see how the character might come across as little more than a cipher in the film. That makes a little bit of sense given that the subject/focus of the film is actually Lloyd Vogel, although I confess that surprised me and required some adjusting of expectations when I saw it. I think it’s entirely fair to say that “It’s a Beautiful Day” is not the movie you expect it’s going to be, regardless of your previous knowledge of Mister Rogers.

        Liked by 1 person

      • TanGental says:

        I think that’s v interesting perspective and very fair..

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Rhonda says:

    I loved this movie so much. However, that is at least partially attributed to growing up with him on the t.v. every day. I watched “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” documentary a while back as well and thought it was terrific. It might be worth your while to check it out.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      Thanks Rhonda. That’s a recommendation I will follow up because, on the basis of Hanks and only Hanks, I cannot escape the feeling that there’s a hinterland that’s been kept private for a reason beyond he was a very private person…

      Liked by 1 person

  10. JT Twissel says:

    I have to admit that when Mr. Rogers was on the air, I thought he was lowering the IQ of America’s children but then we’d just been through Watergate and the Vietnam War. So our children were being raised by deeply cynical parents. My son loved Mr. Rogers and he has turned out to be a deeply compassionate man so Mr. R was right: slow down, we move too fast. We have to make this moment last.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Those damp dog marks are a badge of honour. I must admit I like a Hanks film but not this one for some reason.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Elizabeth says:

    I found him totally annoying as a parent, but I did enjoy the documentary about him described in earlier comments. That gave me a better understanding of what he was doing. I had no interest in seeing Hanks play him, though.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Widdershins says:

    Growing up in Australia I had never heard of Mr Rogers until I moved here, (Canada) and even then he was just another personality that US children grew up with so I had no preconcieved notions about the man, but Tom Hanks portrayal of him did have a whiff of ‘somethings not kosher about this bloke’ for me too.
    Learning about Rolf Harris was a bitter pill for me as well.

    Liked by 1 person

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