You simply don’t mess with Mr. Rogers. To many of us, he symbolizes sacred ground; a person who liked you no matter what, and even if you were in trouble or feeling left out, you could always turn on PBS and get a dose of Rogers.
Those of us who saw “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” last year will be even stauncher supporters of Mr. Rogers. Yes, he really was that nice.
So, it’s not surprising that we have one of the nicest actors in Hollywood playing the man himself. Yes, Tom Hanks is the best choice. The thing I liked best about Hanks’ portrayal of Fred Rogers was that it was more of an interpretation than an impersonation. Tom Hanks did not spend time trying to get an impersonation down pat. He merely played Mr. Rogers the way he perceived the man. And it was an excellent portrayal.
But I am probably like most fans: the movie wasn’t what I expected. I suppose I was expecting more biographical material on Mr. Rogers; perhaps a sequel to the above mentioned documentary from last year. This movie is not that at all, and I should have known better anyway. I read the story that the movie is based on, and I was well aware of the friendship between author Tom Junod and Rogers.
Junod, in this case, is played by actor Matthew Rhys, who actually plays a fictional version of the author named Lloyd Vogel.
The movie examines the inner demons of Vogel and how becoming friends with Mister Rogers changes his perspective and indeed, many of the perspectives of the people around him. At times, I became a little chagrined at how much time the movie spent on Vogel’s issues; we were all there to see Tom Hanks play Mister Rogers.
However, despite the movie not being what I thought, I still enjoyed it and I think it was well done. The performances of Rhys, Oscar winner Chris Cooper (who plays the wayward father) and Susan Kelechi Watson as Vogel’s wife are meaningful.
Watson utters one of the funniest lines in the movie after answering the phone and having Fred Rogers address her by her first name: “Mr. Rogers knows my name!”
Even though he plays a somewhat supporting role at times, this movie belongs to Hanks. We are as happy to see him on the screen as we were as kids watching Mr. Rogers. As I said, his portrayal is more interpretation than imitation and, I have to say it: we like him just the way he is.
Go see it. My grade: A
“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” opens Friday, Nov. 22 in theaters and is rated PG for strong themes and a moment of violence. Running time is 108 minutes.