Broadway's shut down. Hollywood's on pause. And we've watched everything on Netflix. Or, that's the sentiment I keep hearing.
Well, here's a gem that's worth the modest rental fee at Redbox.
Here's a gem that may actually help cultivate the Christian imagination and give us peacemaking tools during our unusual season.
It has a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (i.e. near universal acclaim) and was nominated for many awards, including Tom Hanks for an Academy Award.
(WARNING: some spoilers are offered ahead.)
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019) is about the beloved Fred Rogers (played by Tom Hanks), the Presbyterian pastor (1928-2003) who shepherded his tumultuous culture by his children's show which ran for 31 seasons.
Actually, the movie's not really about Mister Rogers himself, it's more about a cynical and angry investigative journalist named Lloyd Vogel (played by Matthew Rhys Evans). It's really about Vogel's redemptive journey and the Esquire article he wrote in light of it. As you may have guessed, Mister Rogers is the catalyst.
The film is based on a true story, and I'm sure the filmmaker took some artistic liberties. Lloyd Vogel is a fictional character based off of Tom Junod.
Without offering too many spoilers, I recommend this movie for two main reasons:
1. The craftsmanship is excellent. At Stage & Story, I'm often focused on highlighting the worldview of a film, but I can't forget how important the form of a film is too. Christians must be concerned about both the ideas underlying the script as well as the way the characters are portrayed.
I'm pleased to say that from the directing to the acting to the cinematography, this film is of the highest caliber. To quote the cliche', Tom Hanks has always been a force to be reckoned with when it comes to his acting, and his portrayal of Mister Rogers does not disappoint.
At the end of the film, I told my wife, "For a while I just forgot Tom Hanks was playing a character. I was just watching Mister Rogers." Now that's a compliment an actor likes to hear. (FYI, and a much better one than...I can't believe you memorized all of this lines!)
2. This redemptive journey is timely and timeless. Lloyd Vogel's internal enemy is forgiveness...or his fury that prevents him from forgiving. Very creatively (you'll see what I mean when you watch it) Mister Rogers sets this out in the beginning of the film. Lloyd Vogel has legitimate reasons to be angry, but in an equally brilliant and compassionate manner, Fred Rogers wields questions, conversation, and humility to lead Vogel to wrestle his heart away from vengeance into the much more difficult (and biblical) realm of forgiveness.
"Blessed are the peacemakers..." (Matthew 5:9).
This film is worth watching just for the masterful example Fred Rogers gives on how to dialogue productively with those we disagree with...or with those who've hurt us or want to hurt us. But lest you think Mister Rogers was "all talk," watch the movie and notice that that's anything but the case: Fred Rogers loves Lloyd Vogel not only with his words but his actions as well.
While this PG film is light on objectionable content (some language), it does deal with difficult adult situations we'd expect from living in a sinful world. Forgiveness couldn't be a central theme if the consequences of sin weren't part of the story. But, the filmmakers wisely decided that we don't have to see all the sin to be able to wrestle with it as mature adults. So, while this film is appropriate for mature young people and adults, I agree with Focus on the Family's medium warning for children.
Finally, as a Christian compelled to see all that's around me with the light of the gospel of Jesus, there are some points in the story which made me long for more to be said. When Mister Rogers (at least in the retelling of this movie...not sure exactly what the real Mister Rogers said) speaks about death as something "natural," and something not to be feared, I wanted this Presbyterian minister to pause and re-consider his words.
Death is only natural because sin has plagued the cosmos. Death should only be something we don't fear if Christ stands in our place. Death is only conquered because Christ took it and the sins of mankind on himself at the cross. So, throw yourself upon the mercy and compassion of Christ!
I understand it may not be realistic to ask a film distributed by Sony and an actor playing Mister Rogers to speak in this way, but as Christians, we must think this way and we must make these clarifications.
But, even with this light criticism, I highly recommend that you view and discuss this film with your family for the cultivation of the Christian imagination.
Dane Bundy is president of Stage & Story and principal of the Secondary School at Providence Academy, a classical Christian school in Johnson City, TN.