The Reel Review
Tom Hanks and Matthew Rhys star in this story inspired by Tom Junod’s 1998 Esquire magazine article about his lifelong friendship with the beloved children’s TV show host, Mister Rogers. The journalist says Rogers was the first person he wrote about who became his friend, describing Rogers as “a man of resourceful and relentless kindness” who saw something in him that he couldn’t see in himself. The two remained lifelong friends up until Rogers’ death from stomach cancer in 2003.
Foregoing the more traditional biopic route already presented in the outstanding 2018 documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor, director Marielle Heller (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) instead explores the emotional impact Rogers had on a very cynical, grudge-filled adult. While journalists typically have a cardinal rule of never making a story about themselves, in this case, the exception is not only forgivable – it results in something pretty special.
The number of tear-jerking moments vastly outweigh the few bordering on hokeyness. Hanks and Rhys, who also starred together in 2017’s The Post, have an excellent onscreen rapport, with Hanks channeling Mister Rogers’ uncanny ability to emotionally connect with people of all ages. At times, the impactful story about forgiveness is somewhat reminiscent of 2009’s Julie & Julia – where Meryl Streep’s Julia Childs is so good we wish it had just been about her and not the author writing about her. Hanks, however, is so convincing that his compassion rubs off in his scenes with the writer, and in doing so, reminds us why we adore the late children’s TV host so very, very much.
• Fred Rogers’ widow, Joanne, said Tom Hanks, who ironically is Rogers’ sixth cousin, was the perfect actor to play her late husband.
• During the scene in the Chinese restaurant, Joanne Rogers and David Newell (aka Mr. McFeely) are shown as diners in the restaurant.
• Director Marielle Heller, who is friends with Tom Hanks’ son Colin, pitched the project to Tom while meeting him at a birthday party. Tom had previously instructed his agency not to send him anymore scripts about real life people. This is his eleventh portrait of a real life person.
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