Friday, December 13, 2019

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019)

Celebrities aren’t always what they seem.  An actor could portray nasty people to be a nice person in real life.  They could present a family-friendly image only to be caught saying vile things.  This is why Lloyd Vogel is taken aback by an assignment to profile Fred Rogers.  It’s just a few hundred words, but is anyone really that nice?  I mean, yes, he was a Presbyterian minister.  No, he wasn’t really a sniper.  But his persona is so nice.  So pleasant and easygoing.  Lloyd has to wonder if Mr. Rogers is for real.

His wife, Andrea, doesn’t want the image of her childhood hero ruined, which is understandable.  Lloyd takes the assignment anyway and gets to know Mr. Rogers a little better.  He’s persistent and digs deep.  Lloyd gets into a fight with his father before taking the assignment.  He even starts to push buttons with Mr. Rogers a little.

By the end of it, Lloyd has a great story.  He comes to respect Mr. Rogers a little more and comes to understand himself a little better, too.  In a lot of ways, it’s exactly what you might expect from a movie about Fred Rogers.  In some ways, it wasn’t at all what I expected.

I was going into this having seen the 2018 biopic, thinking the two movies would be similar.  They weren’t.  This movie was set up like an episode of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, with overviews done in the style of the show’s signature miniatures.  Plus, the story of the article was balanced with Lloyd’s home life, trying to raise a new child and dealing with his own father.

The movie isn’t quite fact, but it’s not exactly fiction, either.  There was an article for Esquire about Mr. Rogers, but the character of Lloyd Vogel is based on Tom Junod.  I would imagine that the portrayal of Fred Rogers is fairly accurate, but again, it’s not always possible to differentiate the public image from the private person.  This is something I imagine a lot of people wonder about.  (No, he wasn’t a sniper in real life.)

I was surprised to learn years ago that Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister, which is fascinating to me.  He was able to do God’s work without ever bringing God into it.  I’m happy to see that at least one other movie about Mr. Rogers have made their way to theaters everywhere.  Heroes don’t always wear capes.


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