Fred Rogers, of “Mr. Rogers’s Neighborhood,” was far more than a mere host of a children’s TV show. He was a genuine exemplar of kindness and compassion, values we could certainly use more in these days of fear, anger and mistrust. He was an odd-duck humanist who taught that it’s okay not to be perfect and did not pretend that bad things didn’t happen. But how do you portray this in a movie without being preachy or cloying? Director Marielle Heller brilliantly solves this quandary by telling the story of the true-life friendship between Rogers and journalist Lloyd Vogel (based on the magazine writer Tom Junod).
Vogel (Matthew Rhys) was a highly cynical, embittered investigative journalist with father issues (Chris Cooper as his dad) whose very wise editor assigned him to do a “puff piece” on Rogers, something he considered beneath his station, as a kind of reality-check therapy.
It is a tribute to Tom Hanks’s craft that, though his own face is hugely recognizable, he once again disappears into the Rogers role, mastering his subject’s unhurried manner of speaking and his way of making whomever he was speaking to understand that they were the most important person to him at the moment. Hanks makes it look easy.
If there’s a criticism to make, it’s that you may not learn a lot about the iconic personality. You very well might, however, learn something about yourself.
P.S. It would be a crime not to complement this picture with a viewing of Morgan Neville’s most excellent 2018 documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?