Recently, Taffy Brodesser-Akner at The New York Times released a celebrity profile that, according to her, "healed" her from a spell of depression.
It was World Kindness Day, and in a hospital in Pittsburgh, newborn infants were being dressed in red cardigans in homage to Pittsburgh native and history's kindest man, Fred Rogers. Hanks is starring as the patron saint of childhood in his upcoming film A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, premiering next Friday, and considering the real events it portrays—a jaded writer whose life and outlook are transformed by his time with Mr. Rogers—this touching anecdote about Hank restoring Brodesser-Akner's faith in Humanity seems a bit too convenient.
It's far from a new idea that Tom Hanks is a nice guy, and there are countless stories of fans receiving warmly-worded notes from his typewriters and other simple kindnesses, but the slew of new anecdotes that came out in this profile, about what a sweet and generous and caring person he is—along with the moment that he brings his interviewer to tears—it's all too much. There is a concerted campaign to convince me that the man who taught me what kindness and love are has found his successor in the man who's playing him in a movie. And I won't accept it.
Tom Hanks isn't good enough to play Mr. Rogers, because no one is.
Mr. Rogers was a Presbyterian minister, who never used his national platform to preach or proselytize. He embodied the idea that God is the love that lives in each of us and that spreading that love is the truest way to do God's work. He was a registered Republican in a way that seems antithetical to all the hate and cultural retrenchment that party has come to stand for.
Joanne Rogers reacting to the newborns dressed as her late husband
He was consistently ahead of his time in promoting gender and racial equality, pacifism, and acceptance of every sort of difference. He was a vegetarian and co-owned a magazine promoting vegetarianism, because he "didn't want to eat anything that has a mother." Think about how hard you would roll your eyes if anyone else said that, then remember that the kindest, most sincere, least pretentious man on the planet said it, and let your heart melt.
When John Williams first saw a cut of Schindler's List, he famously told Steven Spielberg that the film deserved a better composer, to which Spielberg responded, "I know, but they're all dead." That's the dilemma we face with A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Yeah, Tom Hanks is thoughtful and humble and nice. Great. So he helped some girl scouts sell more cookies. Big deal. Mr. Rogers taught those girl scouts that they have value—that just being the person you are and giving love is all it takes to deserve love for yourself.
A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD - Official Trailer (HD) www.youtube.com
Tom Hanks is good, but he isn't good enough to capture the power of such a purely kind and gentle spirit. You would need some sort of Paul Newman/Jimmy Stewart/Bob Ross hybrid to even come close. It's still important to tell the story—to do as much as we can to hold up this model of goodness; remind society of the value of kindness, and what it really looks like. This movie should be made. It has to be made. And there's no one better for the role than Tom Hanks… Except maybe Keanu. Is it too late to do reshoots?