If you would like to read Daniel Azbel’s earlier review of Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, click here.
Synopsis: From Academy Award® -winning filmmaker Morgan Neville (20 Feet from Stardom), Won’t You Be My Neighbor? takes an intimate look at America’s favorite neighbor: Mister Fred Rogers. A portrait of a man whom we all think we know, this emotional and moving film takes us beyond the zip-up cardigans and the land of make-believe, and into the heart of a creative genius who inspired generations of children with compassion and limitless imagination. (Focus Features)
Starring: Joanne Rogers, Betty Aberlin, and McColm Cephas Jr.
Director: Morgan Neville
Rating: PG (Canada)/PG-13 (United States)
Running Time: 94mins
This documentary, based on beloved children’s television icon Fred Rogers, has gotten a considerable amount of award buzz ever since its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and after having watched it, it’s easy to see why. Rogers was definitely a man who was ahead of his time and as the film showed, was a man who is definitely needed today. What made him so special was the kind of person he was and what he stood for. Instead of being a straightforward telling of Rogers and his life story, this film served as a celebration of this. To do so, it featured the traditional use of archival footage along with a series of interviews with major figures from Rogers’ life.
Of course the film could have gone further when exploring his life story but the power behind his message is undeniable and will surely lead to some tears in the process (it did for me at least). First and foremost, Rogers was a beacon of love and kindness who embodied those qualities in every aspect of his life. The film explored his special connection to children, eventually leading to the creation of what he is most known for, Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. His program was ahead of its time because of Rogers himself and how his decency and class continues to resonate, especially considering the severe lack of decency in today’s society. When on the air, he used his platform to treat children seriously while teaching them to love themselves and their neighbor and to guide them through some troublesome subjects as he believed that early childhood development was key in raising emotionally healthy adults.
Over time, he developed trust with his audience which helped him guide them through some tough subjects like death, war, and divorce while also tackling societal issues such as racial segregation and saving public television. Through the film’s series of interviews, we learned that Rogers was the same nice person on both sides of the camera. What made these interviews more engaging was how the director did not interfere so the subjects, including his family and people who worked behind the scenes of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, could tell their stories. Even with all his success, he remained humble and his love for children never wavered. There was plenty of good about Rogers’ story but there was also some bad as the film started to peel back layers to show us the person he was beneath the surface, making him more relatable and proving to us that he was still human.
Overall, this was an amazing documentary that was extremely emotional to watch that both fans and non-fans of Fred Rogers should enjoy as the film was not quite about the man but rather what he represented which was a beacon of love and kindness who was unique for his time and continues to resonate today as these values are severely lacking in today’s society. After watching the kind of man that Rogers was, there may never be someone like him again, however, the film forces us to take a look at ourselves and think how we can be better people.