Life of a Neighbor (a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, 2019)

ABDITN_PosterLloyd Vogel is an investigative journalist known for exposing the truths people would rather not have exposed about themselves. He is a new father. His relationship with his own father seems damaged beyond repair. Lloyd is shocked when he is given a puff piece by his editor for Mr. Rogers in an upcoming Esquire issue dedicated to heroes.

Lloyd is caught off guard when he learns Mr. Rogers was the only person that would even consent to an interview with him. And early on, Lloyd finds himself skeptical of Mr. Rogers and especially his seemingly unending decency and kindness (this prompts his wife Andrea to ask him not to ruin her childhood with his story).

A fictional account inspired by the real life article written by Tom Junod, there is not a real Lloyd Vogel.  Junod notes that Lloyd shares a lot of his life, but they are not simply the same guy and plenty of the events are fabricated.  This realization could have worked against the film…made it seem fake. And yet, it effectively reaches for the heart strings.

This is not a film about Mister Rogers.  It is about how he impacted people that came into his orbit. Or rather those whose orbit he came into.  In spite of having no resemblance Mister Rogers, Hanks fully embodies him.  The kindness…the generosity and the love that seemed to be so much the core of him is fully embodied in Hanks’ performance.

Director Marielle Heller and writers Micah Fizterman-Blue and Noah Harpster frame the story as an episode of Mister Roger’s Neighborhood, which, for those who grew up with the show instantly bring back those childhood memories. The visual transitions of the film are beautiful model creations inspired by the models from the introduction of the old show, and they even use the 4×3 screen format. This is a brilliant bit that helps the film stand out.

The is a childlike innocence to the score by Nate Heller that works beautifully.

The one critique I have of the film, as it really does not give Lloyd the  proper recognition that he is justified in his resistance to his father’s attempts to come back into his life. His father was terrible, but the film almost feels like it believes Lloyd is wrong to refuse to connect back with his father.  I am not saying that the film following a redemptive path is bad or wrong.  But Lloyd’s feelings and anger are fully justified.

However, I still feel a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a powerful and worthwhile film.  It overcomes it’s flaw with heart and soul in it’s performances.

 

 

A Dangerous Influence (Won’t You Be My Neighbor, 2018)

Wont_You_Be_PosterBy the time I was watching Mister Roger’s Neighborhood had been going on for over ten years. And I was one of the thousands of kids in America who grew up with the kindly neighbor and his land of imagination…Daniel the Tiger, King Friday the 13th (I totally did not catch that as a kid) and Lady Elaine Fairchild…but I confess, as I aged, I moved out of the neighborhood for Star Wars and Doctor Who and Transformers and G.I. Joe…

He seemed a quaint memory of a simpler time.  And so it fell onto Morgan Neville to remind us of the dangerous rebellion at the heart of Mister Rogers.

A soft spoken minister, Fred Rogers looked at the images coming into the homes of families across America…and he thought…maybe you could do more than slap people in the faces with pies.

The documentary looks at his career, the successes and the failures. It explores his relationships…and one of the things that stands out? Fred wanted people to know they were loved and valuable.  This is most heartfelt in the stories from François Clemmons. Their’s was a close friendship. You can tell when he speaks, there is a mix of joy and sadness.

What these types of documentaries always to get at eventually is the “seedier” side of the subject.

“You thought he was nice, but he was a tyrant!”

“You thought he loved kids, but he was a pedophile!!!”

But while viewers might brace themselves for the inevitable truth…the real truth is…Fred Rogers was just that decent and kind. Sure, he was not perfect. And he seemed plagued with doubts that he was doing any good.

Now, I talked earlier about the dangerous rebellion of Mister Rogers…and I stand by this. Fred Rogers fought for kids to be treated as more than just…”kids”. He did not believe in talking down to them…and so he focused on the events that the nation was facing and not pretending the best thing is for us to coddle children and hide the ugliness of the world.

Mister Rogers talked about the assassination of a President.  He talked about the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion. He saw these terrible things that kids were not being equipped for because we coddled them.

And yet, Fox News had the audacity to lay problems with modern society at his feet. That his message that you are special as you are was the real problem.

As I watched Won’t You Be My Neighbor, I was filled with joy and sadness. The cold hard truth is that the problem is too much Mister Rogers. Our culture faces the problem of not nearly enough Mister Rogerses(??).

I miss you Mister Rogers…and it makes me a bit sad that my nephews have grown up without you.

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