Directors: Marielle Heller
Producer: Youree Henley, Peter Saraf, Marc Turtletaub, Leah Holzer
Like a typical journalist, when Lloyd Vogel of Esquire is assigned a 400-word piece on ‘hero’ Fred Rogers, he groans, “Why give me this puff piece? You know I’m an investigative journalist.”
You know how the meeting between Lloyd and Fred Rogers, one of American TV’s best-known children’s entertainers, will ultimately pan out. You know that the acerbic scribe with a troubled relationship issue with his father, will be a convert by the end of it. You know that emotional knots will get untied with a treacly sweet ending. And you know that Rogers and his renowned human touch will do the soul-healing for Lloyd.
The needle moves predictably under director Marielle Heller’s watch but takes an interesting route to reach where she takes you. That would be the vital contribution of screenplay writers Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster.
Fred McFeely Rogers was an American television personality, musician, puppeteer, writer, producer, and Presbyterian minister. He was the creator, showrunner and host of the preschool television series, ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’.
With a Mary Poppins feel about it, accompanied by a lot of music, Heller recreates Fred Rogers and his ‘friends’, the puppets and the Esquire journalist, in the same style as the ‘Neighbourhood’ show.
Quite unlike a conventional biopic, Heller brings out the unbelievably gentle and kind Rogers, more a minister administering soul food to his flock than a TV show host. And he gentlyirons out the creases in Lloyd’s life, bringing his family together for a group photograph.
he focus is on goodness and the necessity to smoothen out rough equations within the family before it’s too late.
Verdict: However, I’m not sure if this rather slow-moving narrative will resonate with audiences that did not know Fred Rogers or how he invested in people.
Even Tom Hanks’ performance, which looks like a measured, studied attempt to move like Rogers, will find more applause with those acquainted with the TV celebrity.
And therefore, however sweet the film, it’s more for an American audience than for those outside the ‘Neighborhood’.