It’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood for Kraig Taylor-Bryant as he looks at some of the themes in the film (some spoilers)...
“Sometimes in life no matter how hard you try things don’t turn out the way you want them to”.
A simple but memorable line that not only sums up A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, starring Tom Hanks, but also sums up Tom Hanks’ character Mister Rogers.
A man that, despite the fact I first assumed the name to be a fake persona for the show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, his personality and also the impact that his show had on thousands, if not millions, of children across America (even competing with Sesame Street in viewership figures) were in fact very real.
The aforementioned line was spoken in a very memorable scene of the film where Mister Rogers tries to put up a tent on his own. After failing and ultimately giving up, he decides to have his camera crew air the footage for kids to see, concluding that “sometimes things don’t turn out the way you want them to”. A lesson that we could assume is only important for children to learn, so they don’t get upset about things, when in actuality it’s a lesson we clearly must learn going into adolescence, as the story of journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) unfolds.
Whilst Fred Rogers was played by Tom Hanks, it very much felt like the real Fred Rogers introducing us to how he changed the life of a journalist in 1998 who was tasked with writing a piece on an American hero. Yet, from the start, Mister Rogers makes it clear that he doesn’t see himself as a hero at all, explaining that he simply does something that doesn’t take someone skill to achieve, in fact anyone can explain these things to kids, or just be nice and friendly to others. It’s by learning from Mister Rogers and his experiences that Lloyd comes to realise how easy it is to change.
Fairly early on we learn some things about Fred Rogers, since he seems to be very open to making Lloyd trust him to the extent of mentioning his issues with raising his children, also mentioning that he himself was bullied in school due to his weight. I think it’s moments like this, where Mister Rogers starts to create a safe space for people to talk about themselves to him, by explaining his own troubles to avoid making people feel abnormal about having deep emotional struggles, such as Lloyd's issues with his father, that he would eventually come to open up about.
We also come to realise it’s because of these father issues that Lloyd Vogel is very much critical when it comes to reviewing or interviewing anyone, demonstrating hidden faults or issues with things or people, clearly believing that nobody can be nice in the world he’s living in. Though, of course, that would all change when he came to meet Mister Rogers (since he was asked to write a short piece on him). It’s through his interactions with his father that we know there are unresolved issues between Lloyd and his father, with him even getting into a fight with his father at a family wedding.
This kind of relationship (or lack thereof) is contrasted with his obvious caring for his own family but being too wrapped up in his job to spend enough time with them, almost showing that he keeps himself wrapped up in work to avoid feeling angry about his father’s actions. It’s not until he opens up about his issues with Mister Rogers that we realise not only what is causing the friction between Lloyd and Jerry Vogel (his father, played by Chris Cooper) but also that Mister Rogers is very real, not an “act” but a man being himself in answering questions that children have, and indeed listening to them wherever he goes.
The film does an incredible job of showing the impact that Mister Rogers had on kids everywhere, with how, in moments when he and Lloyd are even riding the subway together, there are children singing songs from his show. The fact that he’s even taking the subway shows us the kind of person Mister Rogers was, because he didn’t want to feel superior to others with his own private transport, he wanted to be just like everyone else, essentially just a parent to his many viewers, or a friend, that would answer any questions that kids had.
Lloyd displays a rightful scepticism in questioning everything Mister Rogers says and does though. Not at all because Mister Rogers is a bad person, but because it seems quite unbelievable that a person could be as amazing and friendly as he was. But it’s only by trying to find who Mister Rogers “really is” that Lloyd finds out who he needs to be. Having only just been blessed with a child, Lloyd learns from Mister Rogers that a child needs to be spoken to in the way the parent wanted to as a child and its through Mister Rogers having been a father that Lloyd finds himself listening to him, and beginning to open up. Lloyd eventually learns the value of family in general this way, and will come to reconcile with his father, whilst his father is on his deathbed.
I think ultimately this comes back to the line “no matter how hard you try things don’t turn out the way you want them to”. It’s clear that Lloyd reaches a turning point in this story. A moment when he realises that he doesn’t want to lose another parent and, despite what his father has done, he’s still his father. That’s the moment when he tries reconnecting with his father, even thinking that maybe himself and his family could all go on a trip together when his father is feeling better. But of course no matter how hard you try things won’t turn out the way you want them to, and by the end of the film it’s clear Lloyd has come to accept that, and this helped him to at least reconcile with his father, and continue spending more time with his family, following his father’s passing.
It’s this journey of self-discovery, that Lloyd didn’t want to go on in the first place, that follows the theme of things not turning out how you want them to, but it’s by things turning out the way that they did, that Mister Fred Rogers helped to turn Lloyd Vogel into a loving father and husband.
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Images - IMDb