I saw “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” (this links to the entry in IMDB.com ) last week and absolutely loved it but, I have to confess, I knew nothing about Mr. Rogers before I saw it. He didn’t appear on British TV which is a huge shame. So, watching this movie wasn’t a nostalgic experience for me. The big drawcard for me was Tom Hanks, one of my favourite actors. Since watching this film I’ve seen You Tube videos of Mr. Rogers and can now appreciate just how brilliantly Tom Hanks captures his gentle, quiet presence. In interviews, Tom Hanks claimed he had difficulty with Mr. Roger’s slow pace of speech. The director, Marielle Henner, had to frequently remind him to slow things down!
The film’s screenplay was written by Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster who wanted to create an adult’s version of the TV show. Inspired by a 1998 article in Esquire magazine called “Can You Say Hero?” by Tom Junot in 1998, in this film, journalist, Lloyd Vogel, played by Matthew Rhys, is assigned to do a 400-word piece on Mr. Rogers. At first Lloyd Vogel is mystified why he’s given this assignment. His articles are usually hard-hitting cynical pieces that tear his subjects to shreds. His editor tells him that Mr. Rogers was the only person who would agree to be interviewed by him which mystifies Lloyd further.
After his first meeting with Mr. Rogers, Vogel can’t believe anyone could be that nice and starts to look for dark secrets in his subject’s past. He also discovers that Fred Rogers is not an easy man to interview. He’s evasive and asks too many questions, questions that scratch at deeply buried wounds and make Vogel highly uncomfortable.
As well as the stellar performance by Tom Hanks, I was also blown away by Matthew Rhys’ performance as Lloyd Vogel. The camera gets right in his face on several occasions. The raw pain shown, as he confronts his issues, is agonizingly authentic. As an aside, he does a great American accent…at least it sounded convincing to these non-American ears. I actually thought he was American until I heard him being interviewed as himself and speaking with a beautiful Welsh accent!
So, even if you’re not a Mr Rogers fan, I would highly recommend this gentle movie about forgiveness, acceptance and generally being a nice person.