Self-destructive, distant family man and journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) has little time for the things most important to him such as wife Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson) and estranged, ill father Jerry (Chris Cooper).
Vogel is given an assignment from Esquire magazine. To write a 400-word piece on what it means to be seen as a hero from the perspective of one man; famed TV personality Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks).
Digging deeper to see if Rogers is nothing but an act for television, Vogel ends up discovering something about himself and his outlook on life that changes him forever, thanks to a friend like Mr Rogers…
A gentle minute is all you need for this easy watching drama, thanks to a very basic story, solid directing by Marielle Heller who cares about the source material, and the leading man it revolves around. Tom Hanks can be one of the only few of his craft able to play a beloved American family entertainer like Fred Rogers, and he does so here in a way you know it IS Tom Hanks, but it’s not Tom Hanks.
With Rogers being a mostly unknown to British shores, there will be little moments you may recognise iconography and music from the ‘Mister Rogers Neighbourhood’ show that ran on American TV for over 30 years. It’s clear from the off that Rogers is a man who cares. He cares about his work, his friends and family, and the world. He cares about those who live in it and who come across him – to be honest, he is played here as almost he were a fictional friend we could all need. But he is nothing but 100% real, and all wrapped up in a comfortable, cosy red sweater. And, once again, Tom Hanks is the man we have grown up with and grown to love and care for, so he is the perfect man to play Rogers.
Hanks is at ease here doing what he does best. Taking on a legacy and bringing it to life thanks to a strong cast and crew around him. Bringing such an iconic and beloved person to life isn’t easy, but Hanks plays it with such natural effort that it is scary how effortless he looks in doing so.
He’s the friend and neighbour we all need. We needed him back when we were younger and the world was scary. We need him now as we’re older and the world is still scary.
It’s this that Matthew Rhys discovers as Lloyd Vogel, a character based on real-life journalist Tom Junod who shared an interview with Rogers for Esquire. Vogel is almost like our Scrooge – miserable, a little mean and distant from everything. Enter the spirit of good and virtue in Fred Rogers, and soon Vogel takes a journey of self-discovery and identification to become a better man.
Rhys thankfully plays a man easy to not like, but then to warm to and want to cheer on through his journey. Which is just what you want in a drama like this. It’s about asking questions we are afraid to, and saying words that we don’t want to, but knowing it will all turn out ok if we do so.
The recreation and detail of the television show are wonderful to see, even using miniature models and toy sets from the show to narrate parts of the story Rogers is telling us about. The soundtrack by Jody Lee Lipes is peppy and full of heart, fusing humour and heart into the music that marries the action on screen. Married with the charming actors on screen, everything else is so wonderfully akin to that golden era of children’s television that it will warm the coldest heart.
And on that note, this is a film big on heart and positivity. It’s nothing but hopeful and uplifting. It’s a film everyone could benefit from in one way or another to simply feel good about something or someone, and knowing the messages relayed from Fred Rogers resonate far beyond the written script, but into something much bigger and relevant today more than ever.
Dir: Marielle Heller
Scr: Micah Fitzerman-Blue & Noah Harpster
Cast: Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Susan Kelechi-Watson, Chris Cooper
Prd: Youree Henley, Peter Saraf, Marc Turtletaub & Leah Holzer
DOP: Jody Lee Lipes
Music: Nate Heller
Country: United States
Run time: 109 minutes
This Sony Pictures Entertainment release is in UK cinemas on Friday 31st January 2020.