The falling-out between fathers and sons has always been fertile material for filmmakers. Movies such as “East of Eden” (1955), “Red River” (1948, with John Wayne as a father figure), “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980) and my personal favorite, “Gunman’s Walk” (1958), have effectively and dramatically represented this perennial conflict. A new film released last month is a worthy addition to the genre.
“It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” tells the true story of journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), who is given an assignment to write 400 words on Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks), the presenter of the TV series “Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood”. Accustomed to doing hatchet jobs on his subjects, Vogel is surprised to learn that Rogers is more than willing to be interviewed for the article. An unlikely friendship then develops between the two men, with Vogel spending more and more time with Rogers, who helps the journalist repair the broken relationship he has with his philandering father Jerry (Chris Cooper).
It is a beautifully scripted and acted movie. The pace is slow and deliberate, and the movie is effective in showing how destructive patterns of behavior learned in the past can adversely impact our present relationships. It often takes a third person – in this case, Mr Rogers – to see clearly where things have gone wrong and to suggest a way out of the defensive and hostile position the son takes.
Although one website has criticised the movie for resisting Christian belief in favor of secular humanism, that was not my impression. In fact, I can think of few films where Christian themes of forgiveness and healing are more prominently on display. Rogers was a Presbyterian minister, after all, yet his TV show didn’t talk about Christianity. His faith, however, did inform his life and his approach to people like Vogel. A student of Christian film will easily recognize Mr Rogers as a Christ figure.
If the film has a weakness, it is the figure of Mr Rogers himself. We don’t get below the surface of his life, although we discover his own family relationships are problematic. The film also assumes that we know who he is (I didn’t, but Ruth filled in the background). There is a real joy in seeing the friendship unfold between Rogers and Vogel. It is a perfect movie for the Advent/Christmas season – one I intend to see a second time.
Joy and peace