Has there ever been an icon that has transcended generations like Mr. Rogers? The jovial children’s television host was not only an idol for children, but a paragon. His flagship show, “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” spoke to kids about topics ranging from the simple (change, anger and forgiveness) to the more serious (death, divorce and war) with a level of respect that many shows for kids fail to do. And in the last couple years, there have been two cinematic celebrations of the childhood paragon. The first, a 2018 documentary titled “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” And of course, you have this movie with Tom Hanks as the ideal neighbor.
Inspired by the 1998 article “Can You Say…Hero?” Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) is a jaded journalist at Esquire and new father with his wife, Andrea (Susan Velechi Watson). For his latest assignment, he’s sent to do a profile on Mr. Rogers (Tom Hanks). After an initial interview, Lloyd’s fascination with the beloved television host grows. Over time, he tries to better understand the empathetic enigma he must cover, while working through his relationship with his estranged father (Chris Cooper).
It would be a disservice to talk about this movie without ignoring the movie’s star. Tom Hanks is perfect as Mr. Rogers. His performance captures the beloved icon both on and off-screen. Audiences will be drawn by the authenticity that Hanks brings to the role. Matthew Rhys does just as well as a foil to Mr. Rogers’ optimism. His interactions allow for the audience to relate to his journey to overcome his cynicism and pent-up resentment. Susan Velechi Watson and Chris Cooper give solid performances as Lloyd’s wife and father respectively. Their chemistry with Lloyd makes you feel his love for his wife and son and you want to seem him reconnect with his father. Enrico Colantoni and Maryann Plunkett also give solid performances as Bill Eisler and Joanne Rogers, with both showing love for Mr. Rogers as a television icon and a loving husband.
As a movie “inspired by real events,” the story feels like a love letter to Mr. Rogers and his legacy. The movie feels like an episode of the show, with segments from “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” to frame Lloyd’s story as a parable about being open about emotions. There’s a pivotal scene where Lloyd asks what parenting wasn’t easy for Mr. Rogers’ and Fred assures him that despite his calm demeanor, parenting wasn’t easy and ties into the importance fatherhood has on the story.
The movie applies a handful of tricks that make the cinematography feel more unique. For example, models akin to the ones in the introduction of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” show the transition from New York City to Pittsburgh. The way the movie frames the story as an episode of the show adds to the atmosphere of the movie. The effects of the set and the Neighborhood of Make-Believe culminate in a dream sequence that acts as a catalyst for both the final act and Lloyd’s transformation.
Mr. Rogers’ legacy transcends the initial audience from the first episode of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” and this movie is a monument to that legacy. Tom Hanks bring the man alive and reminds that our emotions are valid and encourage the audience to communicate them in healthy ways. Leaving the theater, I felt like Lloyd throughout the movie; blown away by such a larger than life icon. No matter how dark the world may seem, Mr. Rogers is a wholesome, shining light.