Rarely does a biopic not only live up to your expectations, but exceed them. That’s because it’s not a chronicle of Fred Rogers’ life; instead, it’s almost a fable, illustrating his values, illuminating what made this gentle man who wore Keds and zipped cardigans so beloved.
When his “Esquire” magazine editor assigns skeptical Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) to write a 400-word piece about TV host Mister Rogers (Tom Hanks) for their upcoming “Heroes” issue, he’s perplexed.
“I don’t do puff pieces. ... I have no idea how to write about a person like Fred,” Lloyd admits. He’d just published a Kevin Spacey expose and was considered a “hostile” investigative journalist, one to be avoided.
“Why Fred made that decision, he never told me,” Lloyd said. “Fred moved in mysterious ways.”
Despite having a devoted wife (Susan Kelechi Watson) and infant son, Lloyd is consumed with anger toward his father (Chris Cooper) who abandoned the family when Lloyd was just a boy.
While conversing with genial, soft-spoken Fred Rogers, Lloyd’s repressed feelings erupt as the two men forge a genuine connection and uncanny understanding. Seemingly effortlessly, Hanks embodies Rogers’ deep humility, authentic affection and unconditional acceptance.
When asked about the difficulty of playing Mister Rogers, Hanks said, “being able to find the quiet spaces inside spaces that had to be filled.”
Director Marielle Heller and screenwriters Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman-Blue focus on Fred’s real-life friendship with Tom Junod, who wrote the 1998 “Esquire” cover piece “Can You Say ... Hero?” So rather than repeating last year’s documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” it’s a companion piece.
Rogers’ widow Joanne puts it best: “With so much conflict going on in the world, I think people are hungry for kindness. Fred’s legacy reminds us to be kind and to be neighborly, to try and forgive those who have hurt us and try to see the innate goodness in all people.”
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is a timely 10, because kindness has never been more relevant.
Susan Granger has been an on-air television and radio commentator and entertainment critic for more than 25 years. Raised in Hollywood, Granger appeared as a child actress in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, and Lassie. She currently resides in Westport.