Last year’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor? was a tear-jerking documentary about Mr. Rogers (see previous post). This year’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is fictional, showcasing Mr. Rogers (Tom Hanks) through a based-on-a-true-story tale about his relationship with cynical journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), a guy with significant father issues.
As you can see in the trailer, some bonding occurs:
Five of the messages that stand out in this movie:
- The need for empathy and listening
- Feelings are meant to be addressed
- The importance of silences
- Mistakes happen
- Human sainthood isn’t a thing
As reported by Ethan Sacks, NBC, the film’s director Marielle Heller was drawn to the idea of portraying the power of empathy:
“It feels like everyone is saying to me, ‘Oh my gosh, it feels like we need Mr. Rogers more than ever.’ We’re living in scary times and I think we all have that feeling that we’re losing touch with each other and we’re losing touch with the ability to listen to each other and empathize with each other.”
As articulated by the subheading of an article by Mariana Alessandri, New York Times: “Fred Rogers’s belief that we should validate emotions, not suppress them, is wisdom for all ages.”
Through words and actions, Rogers demonstrates to both kids and adults that all feelings can be faced and that everyone can find his or her own outlets for dealing with the tougher ones.
Rogers not only listens in a way that allows meaningful silences in conversations, he also directs Lloyd at one pivotal point to share a moment of purposeful quietude. Joey Nolfi, ew.com, describes a scene that takes place in a busy diner:
…Rogers asks Vogel to take a minute of silence to consider the people who’ve loved him into being. For the next 60 seconds, Vogel and Rogers sit in quietude while the camera pans around the restaurant…before training on Hanks’ face as he shifts his gaze from Vogel to the audience in the theater, asking us to consider the most important people in our lives as well.
Richard Brody, New Yorker, on the filming of an awkward “Mr. Rogers” TV segment:
When a scene of Mr. Rogers assembling a tent comes to nought, Rogers, rather than retaking it or seeking another character’s help, completes the scene as is and makes his failure to assemble it the crucial theme, later explaining his decision to Vogel: ‘It’s important for children to know that adults’ plans don’t always work out.’
Sainthood (Is For Non-Humans)
Fred’s wife Joanne, now 91, was consulted before each of the aforementioned Mr. Rogers flicks. “’Just don’t make Fred into a saint.’ That has become Joanne’s refrain,” states Jeanne Marie Laskas, New York Times Magazine.
Joanne’s refrain has been adopted by people who spent their careers working with Fred in Studio A. ‘If you make him out to be a saint, nobody can get there,‘ said Hedda Sharapan, the person who worked with Fred the longest in various creative capacities over the years. ‘They’ll think he’s some otherworldly creature.’
‘If you make him out to be a saint, people might not know how hard he worked,’ Joanne said. Disciplined, focused, a perfectionist — an artist. That was the Fred she and the cast and crew knew.