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Posts Tagged ‘Fred Rogers’

Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys

“IT’S A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD” My rating: B+ (Opens wide on Nov. 22)

108 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

Movie trailers are a hugely effective way of lying. One should always approach them with the same caution brought to political postings on Facebook.

So my tearful response to the trailer for “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” with Tom Hanks as the iconic PBS kiddie show star Fred Rogers, left me wary.  Could the actual movie really be that moving, or would it fall apart in a morass of manipulation and sentimentality?

Good news, Mr. Rogers fans.  “Beautiful Day” sidesteps virtually all the landmines in its path and delivers a funny, touching and uplifting story about a man who was too good to be true.

Fred Rogers was the subject last year of an exhaustive documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”; happily director Marielle Heller (“Diary of a Teenage Girl,” “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”) and screenwriters Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harvester (working from Tom Junod’s 1998 Esquire profile of Rogers) don’t turn “Beautiful Day” into another retelling of the famous man’s life. In fact, one could argue that Fred Rogers is a supporting character here.

The film centers on Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), a (fictional) investigative journalist whose specialty is digging up dirt on his subjects. He’s tough and analytical and cynical…and appalled when his editor assigns him to write a 500-word piece — essentially a long caption –on Mr. Rogers. (“Play nice,” she urges him.)

He doesn’t want the assignment. His wife Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson of TV’s “This Is Us”) sees disaster looming: “Please don’t ruin my childhood.”

Lloyd has more than a little baggage from his own childhood.  Early on we see his encounter at a wedding with his father Jerry (Chris Cooper), whom he hasn’t seen for years; it almost immediately devolves into a father-son brawl.

Fifteen years earlier, when Lloyd’s mother became fatally ill, the philandering Jerry abandoned her and his two children. Now Lloyd carries a manhole cover-sized grudge. When Lloyd first interviews Fred Rogers (Hanks) at the Pittsburgh TV station where the show is taped, the evidence of his Oedipal issues is all over his bruised face.

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Fred Rogers

“WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?” My rating: B+

94 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

The story of Fred Rogers, the Presbyterian minister who for three decades starred in, wrote and scored PBS’s “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” is heartwarming, inspiring, funny, aspirational and, alas, kind of depressing.

Depressing because in Donald Trump’s America there is no longer room for a television mentor who eschews technical sophistication and speaks directly to children about their hopes and fears. Who tells every kid that he or she matters.

“Love is at the root of everything,” Rogers tells us in an old interview. “Love or the lack of it.”

This moving, yea, tear-inducing documentary from Morgan Neville (“20 Feet from Stardom,” “Best of Enemies”) lays out the Mr. Rogers saga from its early days at a Pittsburgh station to Eddie Murphy’s parody on “SNL” and, much later, charges that Rogers was singlehandedly responsible for a generation of entitled underachievers who bought his line that “You are special.”

Among other things, Rogers is credited with saving public broadcasting. In 1969 Richard Nixon was preparing to strip PBS of its federal funding to help pay for the Vietnam War.  At a Congressional hearing a nervous Rogers set aside his prepared text and charmed the committee members by reciting the lyrics to his song “What Do You Do With the Mad That You Feel?”  Thick-skinned Sen. John Pastore, previously unfamiliar with Rogers’ work, was blown away: “Looks like you just earned the $20 million.”

This doc proves conclusively that Fred Rogers the man was precisely as he appeared on the little screen — an impossibly decent and compassionate guy who cared deeply about children and quietly reveled in their love (and without the faintest whiff of pedophilia).

In most regards Neville has given us a straightforward docubio: Lots of talking-head testimony from Roger’s family and co-workers, psychologists and even cellist Yo Yo Ma, who as a young man appeared on the show and became a lifelong devotee. Of course there’s tons of broadcast footage.  Backstage photos and home movies. Even some newly animated sequences that illustrate Rogers’ philosophy through Daniel, the hand puppet Tiger who was his almost constant onscreen sidekick and alter ego. (There’s footage of Rogers meeting with kids and pulling his puppets from a bag…the youngsters immediately begin talking to the felt creatures on his hands.)

For those of us too old to have experienced the Rogers magic (I was already in college when his show went national) it has been easy to dismiss him as laughably square and painfully low tech. With hindsight these become the finest of virtues — especially when contrasted with the hyperactive/overtly cruel nonsense that makes up most of children’s programming. (more…)

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