Celebrated songwriter William Corgan famously said once, “The world is a vampire, sent to drain. Secret destroyers, hold you up to the flames. And what do I get, for my pain? Betrayed desires, and a piece of the game.”
In spite of all his pent-up anger, he felt powerless, much like an incarcerated rodent. Adulthood provides many opportunities for the kind of restlessness with which William was all too familiar. Crushing disappointment can make every day feel like a battle. People and relationships sour and turn toxic. It’s a damning realization that there are times where we feel broken and the pieces may never fit back together.
The new movie about the late, great Fred Rogers, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” is a parable that challenges such concepts. There are those who see the beauty in the world and people who occupy its many spaces—people who believe the world is not a vampire set to drain but a place of caring and growth that can allow all of us to flourish. This pleasant worldview, presented earnestly by Mister Rogers (Tom Hanks), feels wonderfully antiquated as it captures a feeling of child-like wonder—a time when we believed love could conquer all and together we could deal with difficulties of a complicated world.
Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) is a jaded investigative journalist who has some pent-up anger regarding his father, Jerry (Chris Cooper), who abandoned his family at a time when they needed him most. After Jerry shows up to a family event and tries to awkwardly patch things up, Lloyd pops a couple of blood vessels and takes a swing at his old man. Lloyd struggles to appreciate the good things in his life, including his wife Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson) and their newborn child. As his existential crisis begins to plunge life into a state of disarray, he is assigned to do a small write-up on Fred Rogers for Esquire magazine.
Lloyd enters the world of Mister Rogers with a heaping helping of disbelief. Rogers’ simple ways and unabashed optimism feel far removed from the harsh reality with which Lloyd is dealing. The thoughtful simplicity of Fred Rogers wasn’t simply an act; it was a personal philosophy that involved a healthy outlook and enthusiasm for the citizens of the world. Mister Rogers and Lloyd strike up a friendship as their lives intersect at various points. Can Rogers’ lust for life inspire Lloyd and help him open his heart to a more connected existence?
Spoiler alert: Yes.
“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is a pleasant little moral lesson. It’s not a complicated movie, rather simple in a way that feels as novel as Rogers himself. The film is framed with segments of Rogers’ landmark show that tackle Lloyd’s life, like any other topic he would present, complete with a ludicrous dream sequence and all the awkward puppet shows of our youth. Not every moment lands, and some of the scenes feel a little undercooked, but the movie takes such wonderful inspiration from Rogers and his show. It all feels like a breath of fresh air in our current toxic, smog-filled world.
Tom Hanks is the only person who could believably play this unblemished icon. His performance helps make Rogers feel like a real person, while embodying all the charm and magic that made him so beloved. The film’s message of seeking out love rather than allowing difficulties to drag us down is one a lot of people could benefit from seeing. The film is a wonderful tribute to the man and everything he stood for. There are no sharp edges or rough corners here, just a simple story of how capable we all are of loving and being loved, if we’re willing to believe it’s worth seeking.