The Nicest Living Man Plays The Nicest Non Living Man

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(Dir. Marielle Heller, 2019)



Firstly, Tom Hanks, despite the recent revelation that they’re related, looks and sounds nothing like Mr. Rogers. Yet that doesn’t matter much because within the first few minutes, the nicest living man in the world convincingly embodies the nicest non living man with winning grace and aplomb.


But the real protagonist of this film by Marielle Heller (DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL, CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?) is journalist Lloyd Vogel, portrayed by Matthew Rhys, mostly known for his role as a Russian spy on the FX series, The Americans.


Set in the late ‘90s, Lloyd, who is a fictionalized version of writer Tom Junod, is given the assignment by of profiling Mr. Rogers for an issue of Esquire about American heroes. Considering it a “puff piece,” Lloyd is hesitant about doing the piece on someone that “plays with puppets for living.”


Lloyd’s editor (Christine Lahti) insists and soon the cynical scribe is the orbit of the popular PBS children’s TV host with trips back forth from New York to Pittsburgh (where Mister Rogers' Neighborhood was taped), and many calls from Fred Rogers to Lloyd, with even Lloyd’s wife Andrea (This is Us’s Susan Kelechi Watson) getting some phone time with her childhood idol (Andrea: “Oh, God - Lloyd, please don’t ruin my childhood”).


While folks going in should not expect a dramatized version of last year’s excellent documentary WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOOR?, there are some recreations of moments from Mr. Rogers’ long-running show including the funny scene in which the host struggles with setting up a tent. Also, FORREST GUMP-style, Hanks’ Mr. Rogers is inserted into clips with Arsenio Hall and Oprah Winfrey.


A downside to the whimsical, life-affirming message of the movie is a subplot concerning Lloyd’s blustery estranged father Jerry (Chris Cooper). It’s a clichéd premise, done to death, with Cooper desperately trying to make amends with his son, and us knowing that Mr. Rogers’ teachings will lead the way to love.


But there are several nice touches that somehow make elements like that fit in the framework like the use of miniature for nearly every exterior shot in the tradition of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood’s colorful models.


The edgy friendship which turns warm and fuzzy between Hanks’ Fred Rogers and Rhys’ Lloyd Vogel is endearingly well acted. They may be in the neighborhood of make-believe, but there are some touching human moments even in the well worn father and son side story.


With its largely successful attempt to show how Mr. Rogers interacts from people in the world away from his show, A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD is a nice companion piece to the documentary. It’s also a mediation on kindness, and how much the world needs more of it now.


More later...

Now playing:

(Dir. Marielle Heller, 2019)


Firstly, Tom Hanks, despite the recent revelation that they’re related, looks and sounds nothing like Mr. Rogers. Yet that doesn’t matter much because within the first few minutes, the nicest living man in the world convincingly embodies the nicest non living man with winning grace and aplomb.

But the real protagonist of this film by Marielle Heller (DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL, CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?) is journalist Lloyd Vogel, portrayed by Matthew Rhys, mostly known for his role as a Russian spy on the FX series, The Americans.

Set in the late ‘90s, Lloyd, who is a fictionalized version of writer Tom Junod, is given the assignment by of profiling Mr. Rogers for an issue of Esquire about American heroes. Considering it a “puff piece,” Lloyd is hesitant about doing the piece on someone that “plays with puppets for living.”

Lloyd’s editor (Christine Lahti) insists and soon the cynical scribe is the orbit of the popular PBS children’s TV host with trips back forth from New York to Pittsburgh (where Mister Rogers' Neighborhood was taped), and many calls from Fred Rogers to Lloyd, with even Lloyd’s wife Andrea (This is Us’s Susan Kelechi Watson) getting some phone time with her childhood idol (Andrea: “Oh, God - Lloyd, please don’t ruin my childhood”).

While folks going in should not expect a dramatized version of last year’s excellent documentary WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOOR?, there are some recreations of moments from Mr. Rogers’ long-running show including the funny scene in which the host struggles with setting up a tent. Also, FORREST GUMP-style, Hanks’ Mr. Rogers is inserted into clips with Arsenio Hall and Oprah Winfrey.

A downside to the whimsical, life-affirming message of the movie is a subplot concerning Lloyd’s blustery estranged father Jerry (Chris Cooper). It’s a clichéd premise, done to death, with Cooper desperately trying to make amends with his son, and us knowing that Mr. Rogers’ teachings will lead the way to love.

But there are several nice touches that somehow make elements like that fit in the framework like the use of miniature for nearly every exterior shot in the tradition of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood’s colorful models.

The edgy friendship which turns warm and fuzzy between Hanks’ Fred Rogers and Rhys’ Lloyd Vogel is endearingly well acted. They may be in the neighborhood of make-believe, but there are some touching human moments even in the well worn father and son side story.

With its largely successful attempt to show how Mr. Rogers interacts from people in the world away from his show, A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD is a nice companion piece to the documentary. It’s also a mediation on kindness, and how much the world needs more of it now.

More later...