The trailer’s opening moments are a gentle blend of rosy nostalgia and goodwill. Plinky piano keys, swelling melodies — the two-and-a-half-minute trailer is a parade of hugs and smiles, punctuated by a line that Hanks delivers as Rogers: “We are trying to give the world positive ways of dealing with their feelings.”
Fans rushed to places not often associated with dealing positively with feelings: online comments sections. Their consensus? This is the purest, most perfect thing ever. Give it all the Oscars now.
The purity of it may be part of the delight. Biopics often provide not only a narrative of a famous person’s life but insight into their flaws. “The Wolf of Wall Street” showed Jordan Belfort’s drug-addled descent into hedonism and greed. “The Social Network” and “Steve Jobs” highlighted not just the brilliant minds of a pair of tech titans, but also their social ineptitude, jealousy and aggression. “Vice” focused on former vice president Dick Cheney’s cunning and ruthlessness, and the damage it caused.
Other biopics have portrayed good people navigating bad circumstances: Ruth Bader Ginsburg facing sexism in “On the Basis of Sex.” Jackie Robinson facing racism in “42.” Abraham Lincoln facing the disintegration of the country in “Lincoln.”
“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” seems to belong to a different category: It’s a feel-good biopic about a feel-good character. There is no scheming antihero, no overwhelming societal obstacle. Instead there is Fred Rogers, the cardigan-wearing advocate for childhood education.
He’s not the one who struggles. That task belongs to Lloyd Vogel, a journalist (played by “The Americans’ " Matthew Rhys and based on the writer Tom Junod) assigned to profile Rogers for Esquire. The trailer suggests that the film’s narrative arc traces Vogel’s journey out of cynicism; he is liberated by Rogers’s magnetic positivity. Even in a film that is supposedly about him, Mister Rogers plays the role of helper, guide, beacon of goodness.
Hanks is an appropriate choice for the title role, having been named America’s favorite film star by the Harris Poll five times (2002, 2004, 2005, 2013 and 2016). It’s a match made in heaven: one highly popular American icon playing another. The film will come out around the Thanksgiving holiday. The stars are aligned for maximum wholesomeness.
Maybe that explains the reaction online to the “Neighborhood” trailer: the absence of dread. “Please don’t ruin my childhood,” Vogel’s wife asks the journalist as he sets out to tell the real story of Fred Rogers. A lot of people might ask the same of a biopic, and by all indications they have nothing to fear.