'A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood'

By: 
John Thomas
TOM HANKS and Marielle Heller in "A Beautiful Day..."

Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) is another damaged human being. In the recesses of his mind, he acknowledges this, yet feels helpless or unwilling to do anything to correct the ongoing situation. He enjoys a successful career as a journalist working for Esquire magazine. He has a loving wife, Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson) and a small infant awaiting his return home from work or on occasion a distant assignment.

Jerry Vogel (Chris Cooper) is his estranged, widowed father who is the darkness Lloyd feels he should address but doesn’t want to. Finally he is forced to as his sister has invited both him and their father to her upcoming marriage celebration. The wedding does not go well for Lloyd or Jerry, nor for some of the other guests.

Following the week end ceremony, Lloyd and his family return home. He reports to work on Monday with bruises all over his face. He meets with his boss Ellen (Christine Lahti), in her office and makes a feeble excuse for his facial lacerations which neither Ellen nor Lloyd believe.

And she has an assignment for him – to do a 400-word article on a famous living hero, Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks). Lloyd is incensed at being given such a demeaning task. She reminds him that she is his boss and that this is his assignment. “Now leave,” she adds emphatically.

With bruises still covering his face, and sadness reflected in his eyes, Lloyd enters the WQED-TV studios in Pittsburgh, Penna., where the studio is filming a new episode of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, staring, of course, Fred Rogers.

There are people everywhere, TV monitors and cables scattered around, toys, models of the neighborhood, puppets and adult-sized sets. In the midst of all this commotion, the calm, caring, gentle Mr. Rogers enters through a door, exchanges his jacket and loafers for a sweater and tennis shoes and welcomes his viewers.

The show is unique for children’s TV in the 60s, as the main focus is on children’s emotional and physical needs. Fred teaches these young viewers the importance of civility, tolerance, sharing and self-worth. To do so he employs music, puppets, guests appearances and sincerity. His own childhood was far from perfect, so he speaks from experience. Lloyd is still annoyed, yet curiosity begins as he listens to the broadcasts. Later, when interviewing Fred, he becomes even more intrigued by the latter’s words and ideas, and begins to feel that these thoughts may possibly be of help to him also.

Lloyd’s assignment for Esquire was to write a 400-word piece, included with several others, as a feature recognizing New American Heroes who are making positive contributions to society. As hard as he tried to follow Ellen’s orders, his interview with Mr. Rogers ends up a feature – 10,000 words in length.

“A Beautiful Day...” is directed by Marielle Heller (Credits: Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Diary of a Teenage Girl) and is a “must see” movie that runs 109 minutes.

johan@beachcomber.news

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