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  • Writer's pictureBruce Klein

A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood: Who is Mr. Rogers: Nerd or Savior?

Mr. Rogers (Tom Hanks) is the protagonist in A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood. The antagonist is a hard hitting journalist, Lloyd Vogel (Mathew Rhys). The reporter is assigned to write a short profile about a hero and his editor picks Mr. Rogers. Rogers’ self-proclaimed goal is to teach children a positive way to deal with their feelings. As most people know, the friendliest neighbor known in the US uses puppets and songs as instruments of his teachings. The puppets represent his unique emotional makeup. He accomplishes his mission not only on his show but also through personal, informal consultations.

This movie is half morality tale and half psychodrama with elements of fantasy and mystery. Who is Mr. Rogers? On the surface he is the lovable friend of children and adults. Underneath, he is spiritual and somewhat controlling. He does things his way and although he accepts his behavior, sometimes others don’t. On the other hand, as portrayed in this fictionalized adaptation of an actual magazine article, Rogers is extremely forgiving.

After a time, Lloyd finds him irresistible; almost magical. Rogers’ occupies his thoughts and dreams. He drags Lloyd in and sets the stage for him to feel and see clearer; to see without emotional prejudice. Mr. Rogers is a beacon in a broken world. That’s quite a big job for the host of a children’s show. But, ultimately, he does get Lloyd to believe in him. Likewise, at the end of the movie, I shredded some tears. Mr. Rogers’ healing powers successfully reached off the screen and touched me.

A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood, the movie is a play within a play which is a device as old as theater. There is Mr. Roger’s story of which Lloyd’s travails is a feature. I started to wonder what this movie was about. Morality tale fits best, but does not capture everything. Mr. Rogers at times seems like the benevolent ruler of the universe. At other times, he is the reverend of feelings doting on the children and adults of the world. He is comfortable in his own skin, but maybe a charlatan. Can anybody be that good and such a positive influencer? The bias of today’s society makes a Mr. Rogers persona difficult to imagine.

Is this just a sentimental movie about Mr. Rodgers or is it a statement the Roger’s was a brilliant spirit? During an interview with Lloyd, Rogers dodges a question about his character on television and his real self. Rodgers seems to show up when he is needed. He never wants to let anyone down. He seems more than mortal. The movie’s power is this conundrum. Is Mr. Rogers just a really nice man who wants to help or is he more than that? The director (Marielle Heller) whose style in Can You Ever Forgive Me? leads me to believe this is a complex movie and Mr. Rogers is not just some angel sent down to help.

Regarding the cast, Chris Cooper (who plays Lloyd’s father) is outstanding in a performance that is Oscar worthy. His character is complex and hostile yet compelling. Tom Hanks was the perfect person to cast as Mr. Rogers. His natural likability and kindness easily comes out and fulfills the expectations one has for anyone playing Rogers. However, Lloyd’s sister Lorraine (Tammy Blanchard) was a unidimensional character. Her selfishness came through but little more is conveyed by the character.

Be sure to see this movie with your children no matter what age they may be. Explain to them that it's not only children who need help with their feelings, but adults as well. That is clearly the message of this touching story of one man's personal redemption made easier with the help of his neighbor.


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