In the 30-plus years between his debut in 1968 and his retirement in 2001, Fred Rogers established a reputation for being a cornerstone of children’s television. He dealt with tooics ranging from how to deal with negative emotions to saying goodbye to a loved one. He made such an indelible impression on everyone he met and he remained the same to everyone he approached.
Now Mr. Rogers is the subject of the new film, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, a semi-biopic starring perhaps the only actor suited to wear his patented cardigan and tennis shoes, Tom Hanks.
As the movie opens, we’re treated to a delightful recreation of the opening of his beloved show, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. From there, he introduces us journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys).
Vogel writes for Esquire Magazine and he has a reputation of his own for being cynical and unpopular due to his style of journalism. He’s been given the assignment of interviewing Mr. Rogers as Esquire is doing a piece on heroes. He’s initially reluctant to take the piece, but does so at the insistence of his wife (Susan Kelechi Watson).
Soon Lloyd is off to Pittsburgh where the show and his intro to Mr. Rogers is automatically one of warmth, but he keeps his cynicism up by believing Mr. Rogers is not what he appears.
As the interview progresses, we focus more on Lloyd than the beloved host and we also get to know about Lloyd’s deeply troubled childhood. First with the death of his mother. Then hus turbulent relationship with his alcoholic father (Chris Cooper).
Fans of the Neighborhood will have nothing but nostalgia as the entire set of the series is perfectly recreated in such authentic detail. Everything from the puppets to the trolley and, yes if course, the trademark sweater and shoes.
Director Marielle Heller takes her time in bringing us into this world and carefully examining and crafting the characters as well as giving unique insights into Mr. Rogers’ perspective on the world as well as th jaded journalist battling his inner demons.
Hanks is able to fairly reproduce Mr. Rogers in the physical sense, but what he does even more is give us the essence of Mr. Rogers even though we would like to get more about his background.
In basic framework, his performance reminded me of another one of his films, Saving Mr. Banks. On the one hand, he plays a beloved icon who helps someone change their ways through their own point of view on the world.
Matthew Rhys is also very effective in a role that goes a lot darker and emotional than what the trailers have shown us, but Rogers does an amazing job of winning him over and giving him a sense of peace. It’s a complex performance that’s equally on footing as Hanks.
To paraphrase one of the more memorable lines, “Please, won’t you go see this movie?” It’s one of the year’s best films.
Rated PG for some strong thematic material, a brief fight, and some mild language.
Hall is a local movie critic.