Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Today is not a beautiful day in the neighborhood.  It is cold and gray, as are so many winter days in Ohio.  But it is a good day to write about the movie “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.”  Just about any day would be a good day to write about this wonderful movie.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is the new movie about Fred Rogers and starring Tom Hanks.  I have to say that Tom Hanks is one of my all-time favorite actors.  I would see (and have) just about any movie he makes.  Other Tom Hanks movies I love are “Joe vs the Volcano,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” “Big,” and “Castaway,” but he is good in anything.  Here is another stellar acting job where Tom Hanks channels the late, great Fred Rogers.

Fred Rogers, the “star” of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, is another great man.  Fred was born into money, but had a lonely childhood because of sickness.  He was comforted by playing make-believe with puppets.  His parents taught him that giving back to him community is very important.  Fred majored in piano in college, then got interested in the new medium of television.  He understood quickly that television would have a profound influence on children.  This set his life’s work:  helping children know that they are loved and accepted just as they are.  His long-running television show was primarily about dealing with feelings and he covered a huge range of subjects.

There are three things I really admire about Fred Rogers (I read the bio by Maxwell King).  First, he was an ordained Presbyterian minister who saw his children’s program as his ministry.  Second, he was a quiet man of strong faith.  He prayed for a long list of people every day and truly made friends with all the people he met.  Third, he never sold out.  He didn’t allow the characters on his show to be marketed and he didn’t capitalize on his fame.  He lived and worked in the area around Pittsburgh all his life.

So, I admire Fred Rogers and I love Tom Hanks.  How could I not like a movie that combines the two?  “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is about the relationship between Fred Rogers and a journalist.  The name of the journalist has been fictionalized (along with the family) in the movie.  The movie is based on a real relationship, developed when Tom Jonod was assigned to write an article about Fred Rogers for Esquire magazine.  You can read the article “Can You Say . . . Hero?” here.

In the movie, the journalist is at a crossroads in his life.  He is a new father and his relationship with his own father is troubled.  The journalist is in danger of throwing away everything good and going down a dark path.  Meeting Fred Rogers changes the journalist’s life.  Seeing how Fred relates to everyone, in a simple, honest, caring way makes the journalist want to be kinder and helps him deal with his feelings.

There are two things I especially loved about “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.”  First, it is a movie about friendships and relationships.  One of the movie characters says, “Fred likes everybody but he loves broken people.”  This is beautifully developed in the movie as Fred pursues the journalist and gently forces him to deal with feelings.  A movie about quiet friendships could be boring – no high speed chases or shootouts – but I found this movie flowed wonderfully.  I wanted it to go on and on.

The second thing I loved about the movie is that is a profound statement about faith.  I recently saw the movie “The Overcomer” and got tired of its unrealistic portrayal of the Christian life.  I felt like I was being bashed over the head with Christianity.  “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is just as much a movie about faith, but it is never overt.  Mr. Rogers treats people as Jesus would have treated them.  Fred’s humility is a result of his deep faith.  You know that the people in the movie are being held up to God by Fred’s prayers.  The movie is about following Christ as a disciple day after day and year after year.

If you have a chance, please go see “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.”  You will be thinking about it long after the closing credits roll.