Fred Rogers captivated generations of America’s kids with his TV show ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’. He didn’t sugar-coat things, coaxing his young viewers through even the tough stuff like Vietnam and civil rights. Imagine Andi Peters presenting ‘Newsnight’ using animal puppets as props, and you’ll get the idea.
Unfortunately, ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’ can’t quite match up the easy charms of the cheap-and-cheerful TV programme itself. There’s no impulse to explore the complexity of this strangest of celebrities – a gifted listener and child whisperer who calmed adults just as effectively. Tom Hanks, in his twinkly-eyed wheelhouse as Rogers, is a winning presence in a supporting role, while Esquire writer Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) becomes the movie’s surrogate kid. He’s swamped by a toxic relationship with his estranged dad that’s distracting him from his big interview with Rogers. You can easily predict what follows.
It may be that successful real-life journo Tom Junod, on whom the Lloyd character is based, lacks real drama. And a bolder movie would have included Rogers’s late-career triumph, when he turned post-9/11 anxieties into a teachable moment. ‘Anything mentionable is manageable,’ Hanks offers in the film’s wisest words. It’s good advice, though the emotions here could have done with being a bit wilder.