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We’re told that, if one can’t be kind,
It’s best if one not speak their mind,
But in our minds, we also need
More gentleness to intercede,
That we may speak them free of shame
And help the world to do the same.

MPA rating: PG

I vaguely recall watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood when I was a kid. I remember the puppet king and the camera zooming in on the educational videos playing on Picture Picture. I think I even read a children’s biography of Fred Rogers for a book report. As I grew older, I thought his style was too tailor-made for kids to appeal to me anymore, yet I still viewed him as an admirable figure. My mom, however, remembers the years when he was practically a laughingstock among cynical adults, so it warms both our hearts that he’s finally getting his due, at least in the movies.

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Tom Hanks has made a living playing America’s most trustworthy figures, from Walt Disney to Captain Sully. In both cases, and with Mr. Rogers here, he doesn’t entirely disappear. He still looks like Tom Hanks, yet he manages to wield the audience’s good will so well that it doesn’t matter. He can practically be two people at once. He manages to adopt Fred Rogers’ soft-spoken manner and genteel politeness so well, that it’s no wonder cynical reporter Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) finds him hard to believe when Vogel is told to profile Rogers for an article about heroes.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood isn’t quite what is advertised, its greater focus being on Lloyd and his troubled relationship with his father (Chris Cooper) rather than Mr. Rogers. Well, there’s a reason Hanks was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Yet, Lloyd’s story (loosely based on Tom Junod, who also profiled Mr. Rogers in the 1990s) is still meaningful, with Rogers acting as sort of a homespun shoulder angel for him, urging him to rediscover his priorities and even the value of silence. I was surprised at how much I identified with elements of Lloyd’s story, particularly his father’s terminal illness, and it touched me more than I was expecting. I also liked the visual style borrowed from Mr. Rogers’ show, with most outdoor scenes presented as a miniature diorama, though one dream sequence of Lloyd’s threatened to get too silly at times.

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I think the reason Mr. Rogers is so beloved now is his unsullied brand of kindness, regardless of the person or whatever they’ve done. In a world where nastiness seems to be rewarded all too often, we as a society have begun to crave what once was viewed as quaint and puerile, and he was the paragon of a gentleness we’ve largely lost. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a lovely tribute to a lovely man, not some subversive exposé but a confirmation that Rogers’ public persona was him. If it makes even one person choose kindness over the alternative, then it will have lived up to the example of Fred Rogers.

Best line: (Mr. Rogers) “There is no normal life that is free from pain.”


Rank: List Runner-Up


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