‘It seems to me that some of us value information over wonder, and noise over silence,’ the children’s TV legend Fred Rogers once said in a 1994 interview with Charlie Rose. ‘You and I,’ he told the interviewer, ‘have a chance to help people know the value of silence.’ It has been 17 years since Mister Rogers died, but his simple message of kindness and acceptance seems more relevant today than it has perhaps ever been. For 33 years, he hosted the kids’ programme Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood, and although not well known in the UK, most Americans born in the ‘60s and ‘70s are familiar with Rogers’ red cardigan, gentle cadence and welcoming manner. The show was revolutionary in the way it broached difficult subjects, such as death, grieving and divorce, without patronising its audience.
In 2018, Won’t You Be My Neighbour? a documentary detailing the life and philosophy of Mister Rogers, was released to widespread acclaim. Now, we have a new biopic – A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood – starring Matthew Rhys alongside Tom Hanks, who takes on the role of Rogers. Rhys plays Lloyd Vogel, a cynical journalist loosely based on the real-life Tom Junot, who is sent to interview Mister Rogers for an Esquire piece on American heroes. Vogel is fascinated and frustrated in equal measure by Rogers’ seemingly impenetrable façade, and endeavours to expose the TV host’s dark side. At the same time, he is struggling with a whole host of personal issues, chiefly his toxic relationship with his desperate-to-make-amends father.
Tom Hanks gives a brilliant turn as Mister Rogers, perfectly capturing his slow, calming drawl without ever making it feel like an impersonation. Hanks is just about the only actor working today who could have pulled off Rogers’ aggressive kindness, and, despite not being the film’s protagonist, easily steals the show. That is not to say that Rhys doesn’t hold his own, giving a solid performance as a man harbouring deep-rooted resentment who, through his encounters with Rogers, slowly learns to deal with this anger in a positive way.
The film is not without flaws: there is one slightly incongruent dream sequence, while the particular set of issues Vogel is facing smack to some extent of contrivance. All in all, however, A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood is every bit as warm as the incredible man who inspired it, and its modest endorsement of empathy and forgiveness resonated with me at a time when it’s easy to overlook the value of silence.
Image Credit: Sony Pictures