By Daniel Scharpenburg
I do have to acknowledge that Tom Hanks is my favorite actor.
I think he can’t really do anything wrong. When I’m not feeling well I like to watch, Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail. I do have to tell you that because I may not be a reliable reviewer here. I’ve loved every Tom Hanks movie since I saw Big as a kid.
Now, getting all of that out of the way, Tom Hanks does not look or sound like Mr. Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.
We have to suspend our disbelief in the beginning and pretend he does. I think, however, that Tom Hanks was put in the role for a reason. He’s a good actor, so of course he’s capable. But also, he has a likeability quality. I look at Tom Hanks and think “I wish he was my dad” or at least my cool uncle or something. And I think the same thing about Fred Rogers.
By the way, the rest of the cast is great too. They did a great job casting look alike actors for Mr. McFeely and Lady Aberline and Joanne Rogers, who gave great performances. I don’t want to minimize them. By the way, there is a cameo by the real Joanne Rogers. I didn’t notice it but my partner Alicia did. See if you can spot her. I think it’s awesome that Fred Rogers’ wife was involved in the film, even if in a very small way.
Now, this is not a story about how Fred Rogers built his show out of nothing.
It’s not about how he believed in himself when no one else did or about how he lobbied congress to keep PBS going. It’s not about his entire life, and he’s not even the main character.
The main character is Lloyd, a sort of really negative person who doesn’t like people very much. He’s a magazine writer who is sent to interview Fred and it changes his life. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is based on a feature article titled, Can You Say Hero? and written by Tom Junod, the person Lloyd is meant to represent.
So, this story has a couple of themes I want to address.
One is the same as the theme of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, really. It’s that you CAN deal with your feelings. Dealing with our feelings is really hard and something that we all struggle with. Fred Rogers made his career out of helping kids learn to manage their feelings and that is a central theme of this movie, because that message is not just helpful to kids. We’re all struggling and we all could learn how to manage our emotions a little more effectively. Life is hard.
The other theme is a little deeper. It’s that you can make a difference.
Fred made a difference to many children in his life, I’m sure. But that’s not what I’m talking about. The movie is about how he made a difference in Lloyd’s life—not by doing something, not really. By being authentic. By giving Lloyd all of his attention (even when he didn’t really want it). By listening and really hearing, instead of just waiting to talk. By loving broken people. That is the stuff that changes lives.
Be real, listen to people, care what they have to say, and love them.
That’s inspiring because I think it’s something we can all try to do. You don’t have to have a show or run a charity or be a therapist or teach to make a difference. You can make a difference just by showing up in your life.
The world is transformed by our attention and our kindness, and this is what makes it even more beautiful.
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