(director: Marielle Heller; screenwriters: Micah Fitzerman-Blue/Noah Harpster; cinematographer: Jody Lee Lipes; editor: Anne McCabe; music: Nate Heller; cast: Tom Hanks (Fred Rogers), Matthew Rhys (Lloyd Vogel), Chris Cooper (Jerry Vogel), Susan Kelechi Watson (Andrea Vogel), Enrico Colantoni (Bill Isler), Carmen Cusack (Margy), Noah Harpster (Todd), Maddie Corman (Lady Aberlin); Runtime: 108; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Youree Henly, Peter Saraf, Marc Turtletaub, Leah Holzer; TriStar Pictures; 2019)

“Sweet and justifiable tribute to the man who embodied kindness.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Marielle Heller (“The Diary of a Teenage Girl”/”Can You Ever Forgive Me?”) directs this sweet and justifiable tribute to the man who embodied kindness, that should please the fans of Mister Rogers even if it’s not a perfect film and gives me more material on a journalist he helped than what I cared to know. This film is based on the real-life friendship between the journalist Tom Junod and Fred Rogers, the beloved host of the long-running on PBS children’s show A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood (1968 to 2001). The story emanates from the 1998 Esquire magazine article by Tom Junod, entitled “Can You Say…Hero?,” where the award-winner was asked to profile Rogers.

Mister Rogers passed away in 2003, at age 74, of stomach cancer. Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster supply a warm but too superficial screenplay that explores on the surface the effects of Mister Rogers on the journalist as well as on the public. It follows last year’s wonderful and well-received inspirational documentary on Rogers by Morgan Neville, a film I enjoyed more, that was entitled Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

The troubled with daddy issues Big Apple investigative journalist Junod is here fictionalized as Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys, Welsh actor). He’s depicted as a volatile person saddled with lingering childhood problems and anger issues that impact his relationship with others and his family. He’s estranged from his boorish absentee father (Chris Cooper), has a good marriage with his faithful wife (Susan Kelechi Watson) and has an infant son. Vogel was reluctant to do a profile on Rogers suspecting that away from the camera he would find all sorts of warts and have to expose the idealized popular TV personality in a hatchet job. Instead he found his Presbyterian minister subject was all he was cracked-up to be on his show and a friendship developed. When Vogel first meets the saintly Rogers while he’s doing his show from Pittsburgh, Rogers immediately recognizes the journalist is hurting and could use some tender love. So he reaches out to him and slowly gets the wounded journalist to look at himself more closely and let go of some of his cynicism, and he soon begins to act nicer to others. Through the influence of Rogers there’s even a reconciliation between father and son.

For me, the film becomes special when Hanks dresses in his red cardigan sweater for the show and then he sings the title song: “I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you/I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.” All I asked from the film was to make a connection again with Rogers and when it did because of the fine tingly performance by Hanks, the film gave me enough of the Mister Rogers vibe I always admired to be satisfied.

REVIEWED ON 11/24/2019   GRADE: B    https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/