Its quite possible indeed that we need A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood now more than ever, for patently obvious reasons considering everything going on in the world, and what I’ll get to in the last paragraph of this post. Its a shame its not a classic life-affirming film in the same way that Frank Capra’s Its a Wonderful Life is, and likely won’t be remembered for as long or as warmly as that genuinely Great film, but that’s like complaining that a good film isn’t a great film- if all films were great, as in ‘Great’ with a capital ‘G’ then there wouldn’t be any special films, would there? Indeed, I can almost imagine Tom Hank’s playing Fred Rogers smiling and saying, “not all films can be ‘Great’, and that’s good, because not everybody can be ‘Great’, we can just be ‘Good’, and that’s okay, we just have to try to be as good as we can be.”
Listen to me a second, its like the Fred Rogers persona is infecting my blog. What is this strange spell this film works over us? Well, maybe its not the film itself, maybe its more its subject matter, a genuine hero for many Americans who grew up with Fred Roger’s (‘Mister Rogers’ to his viewers) gentle children’s programme that ran on American television for many years. Its just wonderfully refreshing, frankly, that the film never found any bones hiding in the cupboard. While I imagine that Rogers himself would never describe himself as perfect, he seems that way- if only because he seems to have been genuine. And that’s so rare. Here is a guy who seemed to live a simple life of purpose, scandal-free, someone who lived up to the myth, the hype (‘hype’ is the wrong word exactly, but you know what I mean). In that sense, the casting of Tom Hanks is particularly perfect, considering his own rather wholesome reputation, as if just his face layers the film with additional authenticity.
I live in the UK, and I have no idea how many entertainers in America have had their reputations crushed by later scandals and revelations , but here in the UK we’ve had more than our fair share- my own generation, in particular, has had more than a few of the entertainers, the people who were entrusted in our living rooms with their family programmes and children’s programmes here in the UK, particularly of the 1970s, turn out to have been genuine monsters. So much so that, watching a film like A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is almost something that makes us nervous, and so relieved, really, that by the end, it turns out some heroes are really heroes. And some people are really genuinely good if only for goodness sake. While the cynic in me roars at lines like that I have to accept that its nice to have something to believe in, that people can indeed be good- I just wonder when such sentiments became old-fashioned and rare.
Its seems so very odd and ill-timed, that this very week when I watched this film, our BBC here in the UK announced it is making a drama series biopic of one of the BBC’s homegrown monsters, Jimmy Saville, which won’t in any way be as life-affirming and pleasant as this Tom Hanks flick. Think something more akin to The Exorcist and The Shining to get some idea of the tone I’m expecting the BBC to take with that one, as opposed to the quite fluffy Capra-like feel that this film justly has. Different kind of childhood heroes, clearly, even if the times were largely the same (Mister Roger’s Neighborhood ran between 1968- 2001, while over here the BBC were broadcasting TV and radio programmes featuring paedophiles and other horrible people). I think the BBC is wrong to be making that drama – and indeed if it has to be made, I think the BBC is the wrong broadcaster to make it. Be that as it may, the news struck me as being particularly unfortunate being received in the same week as I saw this film.