The late Fred Rogers in his popular television Mr. Rogers shows spoke to children in his intimate style that connected with them on their level and perhaps influenced their lives. In “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” Tom Hanks as Rogers talks to an adult in the same manner that he talks to kids to influence a grown-up life and the result is creepy. The better Hanks acts as Rogers, the weirder the film gets and becomes a stretch in the credibility department. Would you want a Mr. Rogers talking to you like that?
The film, directed by Marielle Heller and scripted by Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster, is inspired by an article that Tom Junod wrote for Esquire. In the film Junod morphs into Lloyd Vogel, who writes an interview article after being skeptical of Rogers, but finds that he can break through the anger that grips him as a result of Rogers’ ultimate friendship and influence. Whatever the truth in the original article, on screen the portrayal that attempts to stir audience emotion doesn’t have the ring of truth.
In the plot it is as if Rogers were practicing psychiatry without a license. True, Rogers was an ordained minister, so trying to help Vogel could be like advising a parishioner, but the story still comes across as far-fetched.
Hanks, ever the superb actor, perfectly nails Rogers down to minute details. Matthew Rhys plays Vogel, who is at first reluctant to take on the assignment from his editor (Christine Lahti). Rhys is successful in demonstrating how consumed Vogel is with anger at his father (Chris Cooper) for abandoning his mother when she is dying and moving on to another woman. Little by little we see Rogers’ influence on Vogel and the personality change that results.
The early scenes in which Vogel finds himself part of a Rogers show involving making friends is ultra precious. That sets the tone for the treatment of Vogel throughout.
Some may undoubtedly by swayed and find the result connecting with them emotionally, as well as appreciating the film’s inherent message of the need for everyone to get along with each other. Hanks’ acting certainly merits praise for achieving an authentic portrayal of a beloved individual. But I just can’t buy the concept of an adult accepting being talked to by someone in the same way that he is known for addressing rapt little kiddies. A TriStar Pictures release. Reviewed November 22, 2019.