When it was announced that Tom Hanks would be playing Mr. Rogers, it seemed like a match made in cinema heaven. The nicest guy in all of Hollywood playing the nicest guy in all of pop culture couldn’t have made more sense.
But did Hanks live up to the hype?
Mr. Rogers was an iconic character in American pop culture because of his genuine kindness. His kindness is what made him unique. Fred Rogers wasn’t playing a character — what you saw is what you got with him. Yes, he was human and he was as flawed as the rest of us but he was a living example of what most of us are seeking from the rest of humanity — care, kindness and selflessness.
Playing the part of someone who is so iconic that their contributions have lived through multiple generations, even decades after they have passed, carries a lot of weight and Hanks does his best at playing Rogers — probably better than anyone else could attempt — but he still falls flat at certain moments. Because Hanks is the constant good guy in all of his films, he no doubt plays a caring, lovable man with a huge heart very well. I don’t think that was ever going to be in question. Where he falls short, however, is simply that — he’s not Mr. Rogers. But, then again, no one is.
As hard as Hanks tries, he just never fully becomes Mr. Rogers — even when he does a full routine of the opening to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. A character like Mr. Rogers requires such an immense amount of detail because of who the man, the human being, was — which was one of a kind.
Because of his unique nature, Hanks’ portrayal of the role nearly comes off as a caricature more than an actual portrayal. It’d be similar if someone tried to pull off a Bob Ross film. And that’s why this role is so difficult, there’s no way to be genuine about it — it always comes off as either humorous or as a cheap imitation of the real life person. What Hanks has done so well in his career is making you forget the actor and remember the character. I never got lost into this character, forgetting it was Hanks — who almost seemed like he was playing an aged version of Forrest Gump, rather than Mr. Rogers.
What the film and Hanks do well is catching the awkwardness of Mr. Rogers, which included the aspects of the Pittsburgh-based television show itself. They display his sometimes odd demeanor, his intricacies and how there was a meaning behind everything — even when he’s attempting to single-handedly put up a tent.
Finally, this film isn’t even about Mr. Rogers, it’s about Matthew Rhys’ character, Lloyd Vogel, a journalist struggling with his past. This seems rather fitting, though, seeing as how Mr. Rogers’ entire life message was about others and not himself. But this film is about the internal struggle going on with Vogel, as Mr. Rogers is only there as a guiding light of sorts, who Vogel comes into contact with periodically.
Is A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood a bad film? No. Would I want to watch it again? No. It has no real significance and it will be easily forgotten.