A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019)

I’m really emotional about the town that I come from, Pittsburgh. When people talk down on it or proclaim how they can’t wait to get out of here, I get upset. There’s nothing like this city to me and nowhere I go in the rest of this world can really measure up.

A Rick Sebak documentary can bring me to tears. And watching the trailer for this movie, I realized that I’d probably be moved for its entire running time.

I mean, how can you not love Pittsburgh, a city that has given you the 1970’s Steelers, probably the roughest gang of brutes that ever took the gridiron; Bruno Sammartino, perhaps the greatest pro wrestler of all time; and also Fred Rodgers, a man who gently helped several generations grow up?

Tom Junod started writing for Esquire in 1997, with some of his notable works including The Abortionist, The Rapist Says He’s Sorry and The Falling Man, which was turned in to a documentary. His Esquire profile of Mister Rogers, “Can You Say … Hero?”, was the basis for this movie, written by Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster (who also teamed to write Maleficent: Mistress of Evil).

It’s directed by Marielle Heller, who created the films The Diary of a Teenage Girl and the Lee Israel biopic Can You Ever Forgive Me? 

Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) is the award-winning Esquire journalist in this story who stands in for Junod. Recently in The Atlantic, Junod wrote about the differences between reality and the film. He never got in a fistfight with his father at his sister’s wedding. You should read that article, marvel at how well-written it is, then come back to read my poor by comparison thoughts on this film. You can also see more of what is true and false in this Slate article.

Tom Hanks plays Rogers and if there’s anyone else that should imbue this role, I don’t know who it could be. I traveled over an hour to see Mr. Rogers at the age of seven, so excited to be near him. He was just a constant moment of my childhood and there comes a time when we grow past our childhood, in the same way that Lloyd has forgotten his stuffed childhood friend Old Rabbit.

To be honest, I needed to hear from Fred Rogers and consider what his message can still mean today, in a world where anger is the only thing sustaining me most days. I forget all the wonderful things that exist in the world, whether they’re as simpler as an Italian direct to video horror movie or the love you get from your wife. This movie succeeds because it imparts that message without feeling preachy. These things just are. You are special, as Mister Rogers told me nearly forty years ago and like that stuffed rabbit that the writer has forgotten, I’ve forgotten too.

This movie will mean something somewhere else, but it reminds me again of why I love Pittsburgh. Why this city makes me so emotional that my eyes grow wet. Because it’s a place that built things at one point. Maybe it was the steel in skyscrapers. Perhaps it was the birthplace of someone like Warhol. Or maybe it was the home to someone like Mister Rogers, who took his Neighborhood of Make-Believe and sent it into our homes and tried to get us ready for the world that would come once he was gone.

It’s a dark and frightening place, if I can be perfectly honest with you. There are days where I can’t control the shaking in my body because I get so nervous and worried and unable to decide what to do that I have no recourse other than to just shake.

Maybe I should meditate further on this quote from Rogers: “As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has — or ever will have — something inside that is unique to all time. It’s our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression.”

I don’t have any of the answers. But I’m trying. And that’s the best we can do. You should see this movie, obviously.

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