Dan's Review: "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" a beautiful portrait of the great "Mr. Rogers"
Jun 22, 2018 11:10AM ● Published by Dan Metcalf
David Newell and Fred Rogers in Won't You Be My Neighbor? - © 2018 Focus Features.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (Focus Features)
Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and language.
With Fred Rogers, Joanne Rogers, James Rogers, John Rogers, McColm Cephas Jr., François Scarborough Clemmons, Kailyn Davis, Yo-Yo Ma, Joe Negri, David Newell.
Directed by Morgan Neville.
I don’t do many documentary reviews even though I think many of them are the best cinema available. Most are appealing to niche audiences, drawn to issues or historical figures that appeal to them. There is one universal issue that unites us all (love), and it’s at the heart of Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Morgan Neville’s triumphant documentary about Fred Rogers (aka “Mr. Rogers”) the man who championed love to masses of children for decades.
You may think you know all you need to know about Rogers, the host of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, but behind the low-budget sock puppets, electric toy trolley and cardigan sweaters was a man who held onto the belief that all people have worth and are worthy of receiving and giving love. Through archival footage and interviews with the people who knew him best, we discover an authentic man with an equally authentic love for all, despite differences and despite circumstance. We learn of his origins as a sickly and overweight child often confined to his room where he developed his first lands of “Make Believe.” We see the insecurities he was able to voice through the puppet characters he later created on his TV show, which began on local Pittsburgh public television in the 1960s and was later funded by Congress. We get acquainted with a deeply religious person who “walked the walk” when it comes to true Christianity. Anyone acquainted with Christ’s parable of the Good Samaritan will recognize the significance of the term “neighbor,” and how Rogers chose the word as the dominant theme for his television show. We rediscover the warm feelings we felt as he talked directly to us through a TV camera, and how he anguished over those who did not feel as though they mattered.
Moreover, we also learn how Rogers confronted issues like hate, ridicule, and conflict and how he never lost sight of his principle beliefs nor stooped to the level of naysayers, haters, and rumors.
One of the great truths Rogers discovered was the need to develop a sense of self-worth at an early age, which is why he focused so much of his life to children. In a way, he wasn’t just sending messages to the kids. He was also signaling to parents, friends, and neighbors.
To say Mr. Rogers is the perfect remedy for the contemporary world of divisive politics, discordant relationships, lazy parenting, polarizing social extremes and complete chaos that floods our viewing screens on a constant basis would be an understatement.
Some may see Won’t You Be My Neighbor? as the perfect inspiration to rail against contemporary political and social opponents. For some, Mr. Rogers will make them angry at Trump or upset at social justice or political correctives. If you walk away from the movie with any feelings of hate or hopelessness, I fear you may have missed the point. Rogers’ modus operandi of seeking out those who would hate you while sharing a message of love and self-worth – along with his patented “looking for the helpers” in the wake of evil destruction run counter to feelings of anger, and detract from the kindness he envisioned for all.
I highly recommend Won’t You Be My Neighbor? for all. Mr. Rogers is exactly what this troubled world needs: a little more kindness, love and knowledge that we all have worth. It may be pretentious for a film critic to put a documentary on his list, but Wont You Be My Neighbor? is the best film of 2018 so far (in my opinion).
Won't You Be My Neighbor? Trailer