The children’s show host Fred Rogers is hardly known in this country, but in the USA his legendary status is even greater. Nevertheless, everyone, without exception, should see the biopic, which is so outstanding in its restraint and so captivating in its amiability THE WONDERFUL MR. ROGERS lead to heart. Especially if he’s had enough of the world outside at the moment. We reveal what we mean by this in our review.
OT: A beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (CHN/USA 2019)
Grumpy journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), who is actually only interested in making a career, is assigned to write a portrait of the legendary children’s entertainer Mr. Rogers (Tom Hanks). At first he is not enthusiastic about the assignment, but hopes that it will be received after the article is published. Searching for skeletons in Rogers’ basement or discrepancies in his biography, the reporter finds that the television star is a genuinely good person. In the course of this, he learns to return to classic values such as kindness and compassion and to overcome his cynicism. A friendship develops between the men and Lloyd gains new perspectives on his own life.
During his lifetime – he died in February 2003 due to cancer – Fred Rogers was considered a particularly difficult interviewee. You sometimes hear this from many celebrities whose VIP status has gone a little to their heads. In the case of the children’s show host, this had nothing to do with any airs and graces, but rather with the fact that Rogers was generally more interested in finding out how the other person was doing when talking to journalists than in answering their questions. Tom Junod, a reporter for Esquire Magazine, experienced this experience firsthand in November 1998. His employer commissioned him to write a portrait of Fred Rogers, who enjoyed legendary status in the USA. What followed were many detailed conversations between Rogers and Junod, which resulted in a deep friendship that lasted until Rogers’ death long after the publication of the article “Can you say… Hero?” The screenwriters Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster (who wrote the script for “Maleficent: Forces of Darkness” together) used this article as the basis for an overwhelmingly touching tragicomedy that continues the fascination for the warm-hearted entertainer – even without a classic biopic. Structure – couldn’t be illustrated better. This Fred Rogers must have been the nicest person on the planet.
Tom Hanks is even related to children’s entertainer Fred Rogers on several levels.
Tom Junod wrote an article for The Atlantic in 2019, shortly before the release of The Marvelous Mr. Rogers. The résumé contained therein of the encounter that took place over twenty years ago begins with the words “Long ago, a man of resourceful and unrelenting kindness saw something in me that I did not see myself. He trusted me when I thought I couldn’t be trusted and was interested in me more than I was interested in him. He was the first person I wrote about who became my friend, and our friendship lasted until he died.” We admit: These lines sound very pathetic without any context. However, that suddenly changes as soon as you watch “The Wonderful Mr. Rogers”. In the film, Tom Junod goes by the name Lloyd Vogel and Fred Rogers has the face of Hollywood star Tom Hanks (“Sully”). This is fitting – not only because Hanks is generally considered one of the most polite and friendly actors in the dream factory, but also because Rogers and Hanks are related to each other in several ways: Rogers is Hanks’ 6th cousin. Something you immediately believe. On the one hand, because Hanks has excellently adopted the habitus of the role model he is portraying, and on the other hand, because the two men are very similar in nature. All you have to do is look at old recordings of Rogers on the Internet to see the same warmth that characterizes Hanks in his attentiveness towards his audience as well as in his inviting gestures and facial expressions.
“The authors Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster used a newspaper article as the basis for an overwhelmingly touching tragicomedy that could not better illustrate the fascination for the warm-hearted entertainer – even without a classic biopic structure.”
Now, of course, Hanks is also an excellent actor. In the character of Walt Disney in the “Mary Poppins” backstory “Saving Mr. Banks,” the California native cut an equally good figure. And the media mogul wasn’t necessarily considered the most popular figure. Nevertheless, everything in “The Wonderful Mr. Rogers” just fits together. Especially when Hanks finally meets Matthew Rhys (“The Publisher”) meets whose fate the story is told. His Lloyd Vogel does correspond to a certain extent with the cliché image of a cynical journalist who simply cannot imagine that such a kind and friendly – or let’s call it by its name: perfect – person actually exists; and is therefore hoping that during his research he might find one or two corpses in Rogers’ cellar with which he could bring down the popular image of the popular figure. But the script doesn’t just give Rhys enough background so that his behavior and work attitude can be explained based on his private situation. In his initially rather stubborn performance, the Emmy award winner quickly gets to the emotional core of his character. Nevertheless, Marielle Heller succeeds (“Can you ever forgive me?”) to maintain the “Fred Rogers mystery” long enough through targeted narrative gaps. Especially those who have not yet come into contact with his persona could believe that over the course of the 109 minutes of running time, the moment might come at some point when Rogers reveals his true self and his stage personality as a facade.
Lloyd (Matthew Rhys) gets to know Fred better.
However, the fact that this never happens is neither a spoiler nor a judgment of monotony or even disappointment. Maybe you’re just used to it differently, but “The Wonderful Mr. Rogers” ultimately only delivers what the title promises – without a reveal, without a big bang. And yet Marielle Heller’s only third directorial effort is not blind hero worship – something like that would probably have been the least favorite of all for the real Fred Rogers, who himself never really understood his iconic status. Instead, after “Diary of a Teenage Girl” and “Can you ever forgive me?”, the filmmaker succeeds for the third time in a row in highlighting the emotional and personal peculiarities of her protagonists without judging, commenting or jumping to conclusions about their personalities to pull. In “The Wonderful Mr. Rogers” she once again appeals to a holistic view of the people she portrays, so that Fred Rogers also reveals his weaknesses and mistakes at some point, which only make him more approachable and therefore more admirable. Lloyd Vogel also blossoms next to him. His development from a sensation-seeking cynic to a reserved listener may be dramaturgically quite predictable, but on the one hand this story happened the way it was presented, and on the other hand, given Fred Rogers’ empathetic nature, one always believes that such a person is with his environment can do exactly what he did with Vogel and Junod respectively.
“After “Diary of a Teenage Girl” and “Can you ever forgive me?”, Marielle Heller succeeds for the third time in a row in highlighting the emotional and personal peculiarities of her protagonists without judging, commenting or jumping to conclusions about their personalities to pull.”
The warmth that Rogers exudes in his interaction with his surroundings is also reflected in the production. Colorful and always conveying a pleasant feeling thanks to the soft lighting, not only the detailed recreated TV set from Fred’s TV show “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood” comes to life (you can find out more about this in the award-winning documentary “Won’t you be my Neighbor?” by “20 Feet from Stardom” star Morgan Neville), but also a New York City in the late 1990s. Nevertheless, Marielle Heller holds back when it comes to directorial enthusiasm: “The Wonderful Mr. Rogers” just looks damn believably nineties, but that doesn’t automatically mean it’s nostalgic. Instead, Heller seems to be in love with the many little things that make the film an event – from the atmospheric tracking shots over Fred’s neighborhood, recreated as a toy model, to the puppet characters with which Fred tries to lure his interviewee out of his reserve. Everything here is full of warmth, love and therefore an even more sincere appeal to something as simple as friendly togetherness.
Conclusion: It is the film that we all so urgently need right now: With her tragicomic portrait of Fred Rogers, “The Wonderful Mr. Rogers,” Marielle Heller creates an outstandingly warm-hearted film about a person whose sincere interest in his fellow human beings and those around them Acceptance and tolerance is an attitude to life that we should all follow as an example. And no one could embody this character more authentically than Tom Hanks.
The Marvelous Mr. Rogers is available on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD starting November 19th.