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'A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood': What This World Needs Now
By Michael S. Goldberger, iBerkshires Film Critic
03:03PM / Friday, November 29, 2019
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Can you say inspirational?
 
I can't remember the last time I left the movie theater thinking that what I had just seen was inspirational. Crazy? Yes. Funny? Yes. Sad and foreboding? Yes, quite often. But inspirational, in this cynical environment, with the Philistines at the gate? Nah, couldn't be. Who'd buy it?
 
But true enough, relying on the wonderfully positive legacy Fred Rogers bequeathed us, that's the overriding motif of director Marielle Heller's splendidly etched "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood."
 
You see, borrowing from Mr. Rogers' overwhelmingly positive spiel, I believe even the most disingenuous supporters of the evil that has cast its hateful pall on our land would like to be good — if only they could see their way to it. It sure would be easier than what they're doing. If nothing else, they'd be free of straining their brains to think up a new excuse for each lunatical thought or action perpetrated by the fiendish ineptness with which they've profanely aligned themselves.
 
While Mr. Rogers doubtlessly falls short of the second coming that the least hopeful observers of our national plight say it would take to thaw the hearts of those who would toss this constitutional republic under the bus for some crumbs of power, his mantra does keep hope alive.
 
It is at least a glimpse into an honest and decent realm available to us, but only if enough people would cast the stones of trust it takes to realize our better capabilities.
 
Heller, directing from a finely embroidered screenplay by Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster, bases her instructive paean on a relationship that evolved when magazine writer Lloyd Vogel (actually, Esquire's Tom Junod) sought to do a profile piece on Mr. Rogers. The skeptical journalist, credibly portrayed by Matthew Rhys, is the damaged soul who, in a role-switching case in point, comes under the benevolent scrutiny of his subject, portrayed by Tom Hanks in just the sort of heartwarming emulation we've come to expect.
 
We rub our eyes. There he is again, putting on his comfortable cardigan and sneakers, beseeching us to be his neighbor, and proffering all manner of right and good. Indeed, we can't help but wonder what great spiritual providence has created this humanitarian. Yet, the more we marvel, the more we're convinced he is the real deal. Whatever the genesis, he is here to help.
 
Too bad we can't bottle the positivism.
 
The feel-good is genuine, free of additives, gimmickry and stipulation as we are cordially invited into the life-embracing arms of a power we estimate is far greater than the corrupt alchemy in which its ignoble detractors deal. But the fire must be kindled. And thus, as the relationship between the iconic children's entertainer and the pessimistic writer unfolds, the latter's baggage dumped along the script's path, it becomes increasingly evident that the essence of Fred Rogers' panacea for humankind is the ennoblement of tolerance. In short, all of life's ups and downs are learning experiences — stepping stones to the unprejudiced acceptance of our neighbor both near and far.
 
We hope that the world-loving ebullience promulgated, albeit temporary, injects some of its magic dust into our sinew for future use, and muse a fantasy of possibilities. Who knows? Maybe making it compulsory viewing by all members of Congress will tilt some of those mean, self-interested votes in favor of the commonweal, and steer us back to the kind of country that would
do Mr. Rogers proud. I'm sure going to be nicer, at least for a day or two. And whether it's subliminal messaging or some other phenomenon of suggestion at work, I have a sudden desire to swap out my pullover for a friendly, cozy cardigan.
 
Thinking folk who partake of this Aesopian parable that might be retitled "The Cynic & the Soul Fixer" will be wont to mull the nature of, and interplay between, good and bad. It may be to Rogers' greatest credit that he makes so accessible what we otherwise simply accept as a mystery of human behavior. Yet there it is at our fingertips, all the truth-is-beauty philosophy that Plato and Aristotle ardently distilled, popularized for our benefit by this kindly, TV shaman.
 
Of course, you can't be faulted if, like Lloyd Vogel, you hold a modicum of disbelief in reserve.
 
True enough, whatever background from whence you've sprung has supplied a history of man's inhumanity to man, and warned you about taking wooden nickels. Still, all that said, and even with your cautionary flags unfurled, the profound graciousness of Tom Hanks's sensitive depiction will have you feeling it's "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood."
 
"A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood," rated PG, is a TriStar Pictures release directed by Marielle Keller and stars Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys and Susan Kelechi Watson. Running time: 108 minutes
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