MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Friday, November 15th. You’re listening to WORLD Radio, and we’re glad you are! Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.
MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. I always love when I get to review a movie I know you, Mary, and you our listeners are going to be excited about. It hits theaters next week, but I just couldn’t wait.
Now, there are two kinds of feel good movies. There’s the kind that simply offers some escapism. They make for fun nights out, where you can forget your problems for a couple of hours. And they often include high energy, toe-tapping soundtracks.
But unless you kept this song in your favorites playlist a lot longer than most people, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is the other kind of feel good movie.
MUSIC: [Mr. Rogers Theme Song]
It doesn’t make us feel good by taking us away from the difficulties of the world. Instead, it takes us right into the heart of all those things that cause the most anxiety, depression, and anger. Especially as we enter the holiday season. Then, it inspires us with a story that tells us it’s possible to overcome even our oldest, most entrenched conflicts.
TRAILER: We are trying to give the world positive ways to deal with their feelings. Yeah, like what? There are many things you can do. You can play all the lowest keys on a piano at the same time. Bong.
Lloyd Vogel is an award-winning journalist who confuses being a hard-hitting reporter for being a jerk. His relationship with his father is beyond strained. They can hardly be in the same room without coming to blows. As for his career, most public figures refuse to speak to him after reading the hit jobs he’s done on others. No surprise, both Lloyd and his wife think he’s a strange choice to profile America’s most beloved children’s show host: Fred Rogers.
TRAILER: You okay? I’m profiling Mr. Rogers. Lloyd, please don’t ruin my childhood.
Though his personality is marked by gentleness onscreen and off, Fred isn’t afraid of Lloyd. In fact, he’s happy to open his life wide to him. If, that is, Lloyd will let Fred into his life as well.
Great as Tom Hanks is as Fred Rogers—and he is great—it is Matthew Rhys who steals the show.
Rhys is best known for his work on the Cold War spy series, The Americans. As Lloyd, he’s cynical, suspicious, and bitter. He thinks his complex, adult problems are beyond the lessons Fred teaches to children, like liking each other just the way we are. Or try to be one of the helpers. In short, he’s most of us. And like most of us, he’s looking for evidence that the famously kind Mr. Rogers is a phony baloney just like everyone else. Except, the more Lloyd gets to know Fred, the more he discovers Fred’s radical, self-sacrificial love and kindness aren’t a put on. They’re real.
TRAILER: He’s just about the nicest person I’ve ever met. I just don’t know if he’s for real.
“The way he led his life, I believe dad tried to follow the example of Christ,” James Rogers said of his father, who was also an ordained Presbyterian minister. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood likewise makes it clear that Rogers’ lessons were based on his Biblical beliefs.
Fred tells Lloyd his preternatural calm isn’t because he’s naturally so much better than everyone else. He’s just more in control of his emotions. And that’s the result, he explains, of his spiritual disciplines. They include daily Scripture reading, praying for lists of people by name, and spending hours a week personally writing return letters to his fans.
TRAILER: All these people line up to tell you their problems. That would be an incredible burden on you. Sometimes we have to ask for help. And that’s okay.
The same unselfish interest Fred takes in overlooked children, he takes in Lloyd. And Lloyd, who sees himself as hopelessly broken, begins to find hope. His bitterness and rage don’t magically disappear. But he’s able to take the first steps toward the forgiveness that will soften his heart enough to allow him to change.
The real Lloyd Vogel is an Esquire writer named Tom Junod. The cover story he wrote about his encounter with Rogers changed his view of what’s true about the world. That’s what should happen when lost souls encounter people who are modeling the love of their Savior. Even if they don’t ultimately come to the faith, our grace becomes their grace.