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?
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…