Tom Hanks as an actor is one of those who you rarely lose sight of as they vanish into a character, you generally just see the actor as themselves on screen. However this is one of those times that within the first few minutes of his appearance on the screen, and you remember the quirks and mannerisms from your childhood of Fred Rogers, and even as he zips up his red sweater, it is him. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood could have easily been a near-cartoonish caricature. Because after all, when we think of Mr. Rogers, it’s those eccentricities that make us chuckle at how odd he seems. But as the audience watches the film open as if it was itself one of the episodes of his classic children’s television series, we remember that it created a safe place. And the movie does that, for a very jaded, cynical modern audience, and it’s really something special.
The film follows Lloyd Vogel (played by The American’s Matthew Rhys) as a world-weary and hyper-cynical New York journalist who is given the assignment as part of an American Heroes magazine roundup to interview Rogers as one of the Heroes. Vogel’s editor tells him that Rogers was the only person who would agree to be interviewed by Vogel because of his habit of doing hatchet-jobs on his subjects. While the film very much is centered around Rogers, the lead character really is Vogel and his journey. What he represents is the modern audience; people who have seen too much on the news, knows that nearly nothing good exists, and where something good does manage to take hold, it’s usually hiding some dark underbelly.
Vogel is taken aback as he begins to interview Rogers and tries to angle around his character’s persona. When he asks Rogers, “how to you make it work between the real you, and your camera-persona”, and Rogers simply responds with, “I don’t understand the question.” It could have so easily pivoted into the farcical, but instead Hanks’ heartfelt portrayal is so well keyed that there’s never a wink to the audience, it’s done with a level of absolute sincerity and love that sells it.
Not since Margot Robbie broke the fourth wall to challenge the audience’s being part of her abusers in I, Tonya has there been such a profoundly audience gripping moment as Rogers has. At one point there is a time where Rogers in a crowded restaurant is telling Vogel about how he likes to take a moment to just be quiet and think about all the people who he loves and loves him that he has had in his life, and as he talks the bustling New York restaurant quiets as they’re hearing him talk, and when he asks Vogel to take that moment of silence with him, and the entirely place quiets. The camera settles on Rogers in a tight close up of his eyes, and he without moving his head, adjusts his eyes a fraction of an inch, and the audience realizes that in that moment, it’s them he’s looking at, and you will be able to hear a pin drop.
It’s the kind of moment that is throughout the film. People finding themselves internalizing the anger and cynicism of Vogel and both disbelieving this strange man from which without any alternate motivations, simply wants to let anyone who he’s talking to know that they are at that moment, the most important person in the world to Rogers. And in his singular case, it’s not hyperbole, it’s simply true.
If you’re looking for something that’ll likely make you cry, but in the best of ways, and to help give some hope that there can exist people who are the absolute polar opposite of Ebenezer Scrooge. There might not be many, but at least in this one case, there was Mr. Rogers.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is rated PG, and is open now in neighborhood theaters everywhere.
Rating: 4.5 Stars out of 5