Director: Marielle Heller
Writer: Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster; "Can You Say ... Hero?" by Tom Junod
Cinematographer: Jody Lee Lipes
Producer: Youree Henley, Peter Saraf, Marc Turtletaub, and Leah Holzer
by Jon Cvack
This is the type of film that I wanted to wait to see what people thought of before I jumped to the theaters. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2019) is such a fantastic documentary that I feared this narrative was simply taking all the juice it could get. The movie opens up with the Mr. Rogers set, filtered as though we’re watching it on our old televisions. We see the model town and move into the set where Tom Hanks then opens the door and within seconds I was completely taken away. In terms of people from history, there seemed no better match for Mr. Rogers and Hanks takes us completely away, reciting the opening song, tying his shoes, putting on the vest. It seems so easy to have broken and bombed, but Tom Hanks resurrects the spirit. Without anything beyond the usual intro, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. I’m not at all sure why.
Mr. Rogers holds up a tall board covered in doors; opening them up one by one, introducing Daniel, King Friday XIII, X the Owl until landing on the last door where he opens it up to find his friend Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) as a beat up newspaper reporter with a large gash across his nose. Immediately my attention snapped, away from the beauty of seeing a person recreate another human being and fully immerse me within their world and into a story gimmick. In seconds, I learned that the movie was not at all a biopic about Mr. Rogers but rather Lloyd’s story about his estranged dad whilst dealing with a newborn baby and middle age.
The story isn’t terrible and I’m left wondering if another viewing with the proper understanding would create a different approach. The last time Lloyd saw his father, Jerry (Chris Cooper), was at his sister’s wedding where they got into a fist fight. At work, Lloyd is gaining a bad reputation as a harshly honest reporter. When Esquire wants a feature done on 100 Influential People, Lloyd’s editor gives him Mr. Rogers. Lloyd refuses, seeing himself as above it. His editor explains it’s not a request.
In a fun movie, director Marielle Heller created various Mr. Rogers-esque NYC and Pittsburgh model sets that served as transitional elements for Lloyd flew. He ends up at Mr. Rogers show, seeing Mr. Rogers in action as his endearing, polite, and charming man. His team is frustrated as he’s over 90 minutes overschedule, though Mr. Rogers doesn’t flinch a muscle. It’s a bizarre scene as we get the feeling of what it’d be like to be both Lloyd the character and Matthew Rhys watching Mr. Rogers and Tom Hanks performing on stage. It’s a scene so fascinating that we completely buy why Lloyd’s interest is piqued. He’s seeing a national treasure in the process of creation.
The pair form a friendship. Fred sees something damaged in Lloyd and Lloyd sees a larger story in Mr. Rogers. Both question and pry one another. Lloyd is confronted with failing to resolve issues with his dad and Fred admits that he’s far from the perfect man he portrays on television.
Soon Lloyd is again visited by his dad who brings his new girlfriend over. His wife, Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson), holds her baby while she passes out plates for pizza. Lloyd snaps and with a bit too heavy of a scene, explains how Jerry cheated on their mom while she died from cancer. Jerry gets so worked up, he keels over, having a heart attack. The situation changes nothing for Lloyd, who again flies to Pittsburgh against his wife's request that he stay with the family. He later learns his father has cancer and the two reconcile their ways and Mr. Rogers pays them a final visit.
Mr. Rogers talks about the need for forgiveness; a concept most only grasp when you’re older. It is not necessarily for a wrong committed, so much as a quality required when dealing with those you disagree with. No matter who is right or wrong, I’m left wondering how things would be if people simply forgave the other and - with humility - attempted to understand. Perhaps I should forgive the movie. I was so hungry for Mr. Rogers and Tom Hank’s performance that I think I failed to accept what the movie was really about. It wasn’t the idealism preached on the show. It was the real complication of adults trying to adopt his lessons.
BELOW: Going... going... going... and... Soto pulls it in
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