starring Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Enrico Colantoni, Chris Cooper
written by Micah Fitzerman-Blue & Noah Harpster
directed by Marielle Heller
by Angelo Muredda Marielle Heller follows the biting character drama of Can You Ever Forgive Me? with a refreshingly non-traditional biopic about a decidedly warmer public figure than Lee Israel in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, the second film about Fred Rogers in the past year and certainly the more interesting one. An aesthetic and dramatic curiosity, where a more timid hagiography in the mood of Morgan Neville's celebrated documentary Won't You Be My Neighbor? might have sufficed, Heller's take, starring a perfectly modulated and near-uncannily cast Tom Hanks (his decidedly non-Rogers gut aside), treats the children's broadcaster not so much as a person with a life story worth profiling, but as a contagion for radical ways of sublimating anger in children and adults alike.
Whether Heller's novel approach has enough substance behind it to justify another crack at the hallowed figure, this time through the lens of one of the many broken souls to receive his healing touch, is a fair question. Her gambits work better in concept than in execution, with the exception of a pair of incredible set-pieces, one where Rogers invites Lloyd and, by proxy, everyone patronizing the café they're sitting in, to meditate on the people who have touched them, and another, smartly- blocked and composed, where Lloyd observes backstage as Rogers puppeteers the vulnerable, moody tiger Daniel, cynically trying and failing to resist the obvious lessons he can take in as a prickly stunted child with emotional problems himself.
Otherwise, Lloyd and his extended circle feel too much like hollowed-out audience surrogates invested in the good grace of Mr. Rogers rather than people worth caring about. The tear-milking third act hinges on some dodgy family drama and shorthand characterizations of the rubes in Lloyd's family that invite unflattering comparisons to Jason Reitman's Up in the Air, where George Clooney briefly finds himself by dumpster-diving with some real midwestern folk. Still, the high-concept stuff works, finding its best expression in the lyrical and open-ended final moments, where Hanks's remote demigod hammers away at the piano in an empty studio, the unadulterated Fred Rogers dealing, in his own unknowable way, with the undigested and unarticulated emotions he's helped so many others to process. Programme: Gala Presentations