Here is Mister Rogers (Tom Hanks), and he welcomes you to his neighbourhood in song before swapping his jacket for a comfortable cardigan and introducing the theme of today's show. He shows some photographs of people he knows, and one of them is Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), a journalist who has been through a tough time which led to him being punched in the face at his sister's wedding, causing a scene. He would blame the presence of his father Jerry (Chris Cooper) for this, as they have not got on ever since the father left Lloyd's family just when his mother was dying, in fact it's safe to say he has been harbouring resentment for years. Maybe Mister Rogers can help?
Although mention of Mister Rogers outside of the United States will garner blank looks, within its borders there would be nods of recognition for generations who, when they were tiny tots, watched his television show avidly. But the film version of a friendship with this intriguing chap had a different effect: it did not appeal to young children, but to adults who were keen to relive the love they had for this man and his life lessons oh-so-gently delivered. There were many instances of Americans who had had some problems in their personal lives down the decades watching this and bursting into tears as they realised Fred Rogers was a man who understood and accepted them.
He had a reputation for being just as nice in real life as he was on the television, but if Brits wanted an analogy for the effect the film had on many Americans, think on the CBeebies channel, which was just as loyally watched by countless little ones yet also has an audience of grown-ups who appreciate how relaxing, even comforting it is to be entertained by programmes where nothing really bad ever happens and the purpose is to calm you down, make you feel safe, and impart a few lessons about how to get on in the world as a good person. Mister Rogers' Neighborhood had the same goal, and he has become a legend of broadcasting for a reason, he was excellent at it and benefited the viewer.
This movie attempted to be that for the adults by having a lead character who was having his own issues to work out so the viewers could relate and find the spirit of Mister Rogers entertaining them through the improving persona of Tom Hanks, really the only A-list star who could have personified the man himself. If you knew the original, Hanks was embodying kindness itself, and seemed to seek out the most troubled to assist them to a better sense of themselves as worthwhile and able to make a contribution in their lives that was positive. You wouldn't mind that the script set Rogers to work on a set of clichés from Hollywood melodrama of the twenty-first century, so that the Vogel character, who was based on a real reporter, had groaning daddy issues of a kind that were simply overfamiliar.
Also, if you did not know the source, you may find yourself growing increasingly tense, wondering when Fred's mask will slip. Will he suddenly utter a swear word? Lose his temper with one of his staff? Pull a knife on Lloyd when the questioning gets too close for comfort? Vogel is supposed to be doing a story on him, which in more clichés was supposed to be a puff piece but turns out to be just too darn good for that so ends up on the front page, naturally. But after a while he becomes Rogers' pet project, as apparently many did before and after him, so the presenter can spread a little happiness as per his religious faith and belief in making the world a better place. Director Marielle Heller was prone to eccentric tricks, such as including model cityscapes with moving traffic as in the original broadcast, or a startling minute of silence where we in the audience are invited to think on what we have done. This was a strange film posing as the most normal thing around, and to that extent held an odd suspense, and the worth of forgiveness. Music by Nate Heller.