Archive for Mr Rogers

Neighbourhood Watch

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , on August 31, 2021 by dcairns

Hard to overstate how terrific CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? is but the same director’s A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD might be even better, even though comparisons are odious (even more odious than other things).

Marielle Heller is a new favourite. And it says something that ABDITN, in which Tom Hanks plays Fred Mister Rogers and Matthew Rhys plays a fictional-but-inspired-by-real-life journalist assigned to interview him, is arguably much more flawed than CYEFM?, but still manages to be even more moving and effective, at least for this audience of two.

We didn’t grow up with Mr. Rogers in the UK, although I’ve seen snippets. This might actually be an advantage, because the question of whether Tom Hanks sufficiently resembles Fred Rogers in look and manner wasn’t really an issue for us. I could see how it might be distracting. And I can see how Hanks’ physiognomy dictates certain effects when he smiles protractedly (he can seem slightly eerie) which distinguish him from his model (a little otherworldly but never spooky). Never mind that.

I think MAYBE the use of models and puppets could be integrated more ambitiously into the full-scale action. It’s always fun and charming, though. Apparently the director and cinematographer had rules about everything, but these are not obvious to the audience, and the editor sort of ignored them. But I did sometimes puzzle over why one exterior longshot was a live action full-sized location, and another was a miniature with obvious toy figures and vehicles. Again, it doesn’t really matter, I just think you could have even more fun with this stuff, delightful as it is.

And there’s one noisy sequence — a Cat Stevens song comes in and I think “Oh good, I like Yusuf Islam” and then a bunch of Mr. Rogers clips crash into it and the lyrics and the dialogue are on top of one another, and while a build-up of Babel could be quite effective, instead it’s just two sets of words all the time, shouting over each other, and this was weirdly unsure-footed in a film that’s otherwise so effective.

Those are the quibbles. I’m not even that bothered about whether Matthew Rhys’ particular family troubles, which Mr. Rogers helps sort out, are compelling or convincing. I can treat them as a placeholder and still find the film enormously satisfying because the scenes between Hanks and Rhys are what it’s all about and they work like gangbusters. Although Lloyd Vogel (Rhys) is supposed to be interviewing Rogers (Hanks), Mr. Rogers insists on reciprocity. He’s like Hannibal Lector in that way. Only in that way — but here the faint suspicion of some interior darkness is not a disadvantage. Although it might be important to keep in mind that this suspicion might be ALL OUR IMAGINING — based on the ways we read faces, and the way faces are sometimes shaped in ways that mislead us. Rhys’ character is, initially, trying to figure out if Fred Rogers is for real. And Hanks doesn’t tip his hand one way or the other.

They put one of the most incredible scenes on YouTube:

In this scene we also get to see the real Mrs. Rogers. But isn’t Rhys excellent? We enjoyed him a lot in the Perry Mason reboot, but here he’s wonderful, really a master of micro-acting.

A scene Heller and DP Jody Lee Lipes talk about in they’re commentary (yes, it’s worth buying the disc, but you could rent the film on YouTube right now if you desire it) is the first in-person meeting, where Vogel/Rhys tells Rogers/Hanks that he’s having trouble knowing if he’s talking to a person or a character. “There’s you, and there’s Mr. Rogers.”

Heller does something magnificent. She crosses the line. The scene has been elegantly filmed from BEHIND the two characters, with over-the-shoulder shots favouring each face, and for Fred’s reaction (or is it Mr. Rogers’?) she jumps to a shot taken from the FRONT.

It’s not confusing at all, since this is a static two-hander at present, and all the shots show at least part of both characters, so we’re perfectly orientated. But the line-cross kind of turns Rogers (whose name, like Hanks’, is appropriately plural) into two people. YOU and MR. ROGERS. Heller says the scene gets a huge laugh from audiences, without them mostly knowing that it’s the line-crossing that makes them respond that way. Which is fascinating. And super-nerdy. It’s going straight into my first-year teaching where I talk about the eyeline.