A quick side note before we get started. For the uninitiated, Mr Rogers is a children’s TV host that had a massive show in America called ‘Mr Rogers Neighbourhood’ which started in the 60s. The man set out to make the world a better, instead of trying to entertain the kids watching his program he formed a bond with them to teach them about their emotions and overall make them happier individuals.
As far as I’m aware, the show never made it to the UK and being 20 I would not have seen it anyway as he quit the show in 2001. This makes him relatively unknown to the crowd I was watching it with. I personally know of his existence because of the wonderful documentary ‘Won’t you be my neighbour’ and his speech that single handily saved public service broadcasting in America that has been shared many times on social media.
I fell in love with the show and the philosophy behind it. This is what got me excited for a film based around Mr Rogers, and when it was announced that Tom Hanks would be donning his signature red sweater and trainers, I couldn’t have been happier. There is nobody quite like Hanks when it comes to capturing that reassuring tone that Rogers had in the show and throughout life. He gets him down to small mannerisms, unique things to the person he is portraying. He shines in the role and takes it farther than I could have imagined.
The entire film is framed as a large episode of the neighbourhood TV show. Complete with opening titles sung by Hanks and a full set with him talking directly to the viewer. A touch that brought a tear to my eye to see so lovingly recreated on the big screen. He goes on to talk about the subject of today’s “show”, his new friend Lloyd. This is where the actual dramatic side of the film begins.
The film focuses on a fictional reporter (who is partly based on a real one) called Lloyd. He is married with a child but estranged from his father and purposely writes up his interviews as attack pieces on the subject. His editor sends him to interview Rogers for their heroes’ special issue. He finds you can’t really attack a man that nice.
At this point, the family drama kicks in which at best is serviceable. Mr Rogers comes in to help and talk through his issues, teach him a couple lessons like some kind of wholesome Dumbledore. It really falls down a lot of notches on the engagement scale when Hanks isn’t present on the screen. You don’t feel any real connection to the family, they’re just a filler for when Tom comes in to act circles around everyone with a nuanced recreation of Rogers. That isn’t to say its terrible, it just is a bit of a let-down when you look at the film as a whole.
Everything from the jazzy score that is as close as an emotional film score can come to the kind used in the original score. Then special attention needs to be given to the establishing shots in the movie which are done in the style of the toy neighbourhood seen in the opening titles of the TV show. The film is chock full of little nods and winks to the show in the normal parts of the movie. Most importantly, Mr Rogers love of silence. He would fill his show full of quiet moments for reflection or just general pauses, something this film has in spades, along with a full minute of silence that Rogers instigates with Lloyd. In a way, it’s kind of daring not to cut away to something else and let it play out in a world full of Avengers and Fast & Furious movies that can’t slow its pace down to have a small moment of reflection.
Overall, the film works as a vehicle for Tom Hanks’ quest for an Oscar nomination, one he rightfully deserves. It captures the spirit of the TV show and is a respectable take on Mr Rogers, it is just a shame that he is not in it anywhere near enough and we’re left with some family melodrama that had to work in between Hanks’ schedule. I feel Mr Rogers wouldn’t have liked the idea of a film featuring him but personally, I am thankful he’ll be getting a wider appreciation.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood is in UK cinemas on January 31st