Marielle Heller’s account of the real-life friendship between iconic children’s entertainer Fred Rogers and journalist Lloyd Vogel works from time to time, but its disjointed structure and mannered performances constantly rob the narrative of any immediacy. Matthew Rhys is perhaps a little too well cast as Vogel, because his character is so caustic and unpleasant for the first two thirds of the movie, and Rhys is so convincing as a neglectful jackass, that it’s difficult to root for the character’s emotional redemption. Additionally, Tom Hanks is rather miscast as Mr. Rogers: His performance is carefully studied and he does a good job of mimicking the comforting cadence that made Mr. Rogers such an icon to multiple generations of young children, but his line delivery is tailored to authentically sound like Rogers, which often neuters the effect of his dialogue by taking the viewer out of the experience – in other words, you’re always aware that you’re watching Tom Hanks play Mr. Rogers, and it’s a constant distraction. Luckily, Chris Cooper delivers a knockout supporting performance as Vogel’s long-estranged father, and by the second half, the movie has settled into a smoother dramatic groove that’s more compelling than the first half, and there are some undeniably effective scenes peppered throughout. It’s just a bit underwhelming in the end, given the potential at hand.
Rating: ★★★ (out of 5)