Sony Pictures                                 Saintly television host Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks) meets skeptical journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) in director Marielle Heller’s biopic, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.”

Sony Pictures Saintly television host Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks) meets skeptical journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) in director Marielle Heller’s biopic, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.”

Mr. Rogers biopic is as calm and reassuring as the man himself

Tom Hanks plays the beloved children’s TV host, who befriends a troubled, cynical journalist.

Tom Hanks does not lack guts. The opening sequence of “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” in which Hanks plays the beloved kiddie-show host Fred Rogers, is a faithful re-creation of the beginning of an episode of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

This means Hanks must approximate the voice and manner of one of the most familiar figures in TV history, right at the top of the movie. We’ll all be judging. No pressure at all.

It takes a minute to adjust, but Hanks has it down. It’s not an impersonation — in many ways he’s still Tom Hanks — but his gestures are right, and his voice slows down to Mr. Rogers’ pleasant sincerity. For the rest of the movie, this is Fred Rogers.

It’s a fascinating process to watch, and although Hanks is only on screen for maybe half the movie, his presence is felt throughout. The film even slows down to a pleasant Fred Rogers pace, a nice break from the hurry of most 21st-century movies.

You read that right: Mr. Rogers isn’t on screen for half the movie. “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is based on a magazine article by Tom Junod, and it’s the journalist’s story we follow.

It’s fictionalized, so Junod is now called Lloyd Vogel (an unsentimental performance by Matthew Rhys, from “The Americans”), an Esquire writer known for his cynical approach. Lloyd has a wife (Susan Kelechi Watson, from “This Is Us”) and a new baby, but not much makes him happy.

Vogel goes to Pittsburgh to profile Mr. Rogers just after getting into a fistfight with his father (Chris Cooper), a man he deeply resents. When he shows up on the set of the “Neighborhood,” he’s still got a black eye.

The remainder of the movie traces the somewhat mysterious interest Fred Rogers takes in Lloyd — and how Mr. Rogers’ piercing sense of goodness begins to crack the writer’s protective layer. This story (written by Micha Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster) unfolds in ways that are not especially surprising.

If the story follows a formula, the movie itself is distinctive. Unusual touches (the entire film is framed as though it’s a slightly grainy episode of the TV series) and striking moments make for a memorable, and sometimes moving, experience.

You get the feeling director Marielle Heller (who did “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” last year) took her cue from Fred Rogers’ directness. At times Mr. Rogers will be speaking through one of his well-worn puppets (perhaps he was a person who found his voice by speaking through alter egos), and Heller will cut to a huge close-up of Daniel, the bashful tiger. As though Daniel is waiting for us to say something, or gazing into our soul.

There’s a wonderful scene in a diner, as Mr. Rogers suggests that he and Vogel sit through a minute of silence, and reflect on what they feel grateful for. Heller lets the minute play out, so the movie audience has to sit through a minute of silence — so strange in a film — and think, or reflect, or just be quiet.

What really puts it over is Hanks, doing a wonderful balancing act. He’s willing to let Mr. Rogers be somewhat enigmatic, and yet his performance suggests that doing good is a choice, and an effort. It’s that very thing that makes Fred Rogers’ example so admirable.

“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” (3½ stars)

Tom Hanks does a marvelous balancing job as Fred Rogers, the host of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” even if he’s only in half the movie. The rest of the film, inspired by a true story, is about a journalist (Matthew Rhys) whose cynical manner is softened when he profiles Rogers. Director Marielle Heller puts enough distinctive touches into this story to make it something special.

Rating: PG, for subject matter

Opening Friday: Alderwood Mall, Cinebarre Mountlake Terrace, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood Cinemas, Meridian, Seattle 10, Thornton Place, Woodinville, Cascade Mall, Oak Harbor Plaza

Talk to us

More in Life

CloZee performs during the second day of Summer Meltdown on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019 in Darrington, Wash. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
The psychedelic fest Summer Meltdown is back — and in Monroe

The music and camping event is on for July 28-31, with a new venue along the Skykomish River.

Veteran Keith F. Reyes, 64, gets his monthly pedicure at Nail Flare on Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021 in Stanwood, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
No more gnarly feet: This ‘Wounded Warrior’ gets pedicures

Keith Reyes, 64, visits a Stanwood nail salon for “foot treatments” that help soothe blast injuries.

Enumclaw, the band
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

Most of these venues require proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or negative… Continue reading

Does this ring a “Belle”? Storied anime writer-director Mamoru Hosoda’s newest resets “Beauty and the Beast” in a musical, virtual environment — among other modern twists. (GKIDS/TNS)
‘Belle’ is striking virtual reality riff on ‘Beauty and the Beast’

In it, ‘Beauty’ is the charismatic online avatar of a moody teenager that attracts the attention of a bruised and brooding Beast

"Redeeming Love"
Movie review: ‘Redeeming Love’ doesn’t yield cinematic riches

The story, about a sex worker “redeemed” by a folksy farmer in Gold Rush-era California, is creepy “tradwife” fan fiction.

Eggs Florentine
Baked Eggs Florentine: A brunch favorite inspired by a queen

The kitchen manager at Quil Ceda Creek Casino shares a dish that pays homage to a spinach-crazy 16th century monarch.

Jennifer Bardsley, author of her newest book Good Catch, at her home on Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021 in Edmonds, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Edmonds author transitions from young adult novels to romance

Jennifer Bardsley’s “Good Catch” is set in an Edmonds-like town. Spoiler alert: There’s a happy ending.

Caption: They might be too old for lunch box notes, but teenagers benefit from TLC too.
Fun ways to show the teens in your life that you care

The teen years can be challenging but they don’t last long. A little bit of extra attention can go a long way.

This easy-to-make spinach and mushroom quiche is perfect for a light dinner or fancy brunch. (Gretchen McKay/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS)
Gretchen’s table: A spinach-mushroom quiche with cheesy goodness

The savory egg custard baked in a pie crust is easy to make — especially if you use a refrigerated crust.

Most Read