It’s rare that I want to see documentaries in theaters. However when Won’t You Be My Neighbor? came to theaters, I knew I had to see it. I remember Mr. Rogers a little from my youth but I think the persona of Mr. Rogers has lived well past his show, so there’s a curiosity here that I couldn’t deny. So how was it?
This documentary compiles clips and interviews regarding Fred Rogers, mostly known for his children’s show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Old footage reveals some behind the scenes workings and interviews with Rogers, while recent interviews look back on his life. The movie recounts the origin of this persona, the rise to fame, and how this children’s show managed to speak to kids in a way that hadn’t been done before (and debatedly hasn’t been done since).
This movie is everything that we need in the world right now.
While I remember seeing the show vaguely, this movie doesn’t expect you to be incredibly knowledgeable. It gives you plenty of history and context, even for those of you with zero history with the show. It’s also not a sugar-coated version of Rogers’ past either, this documentary shows a side of him that wasn’t really public. He was insecure about his effectiveness, he was often disheartened by the world, and he sometimes felt completely alone. This documentary will take you on a roller coaster ride of one of the most interesting men to ever live.
In terms of structure, it’s perfectly laid out. The movie seamlessly weaves in stories and interviews, creating a flow that’s easy to follow and yet never slows down. It also bridges topics beautifully, having you laughing and then seconds later crying. It tackles some serious issues and has some somber moments, but it’s all balanced just right.
On a deeper level, this movie manages to change you. It had me thinking about the man that I’ve grown up to become, about the child that I used to be, and about what sort of world we’re creating for our children to come. This movie will have you thinking about a lot of things, both about yourself and about the world. About the people that made you who you are.
There’s nothing about this documentary that doesn’t work. However, there are things about our world that will clash with this movie, forcing you to work out some pretty deep stuff throughout this run time. You’ll wonder “Can this guy really be that good?” and the answer is yes. You’ll wonder “What sort of weird stuff was this guy hiding?” and the answer is nothing. It’s hard to come to grips with the goodness that he brought to our world and now we have to cope with the absence of that goodness. It’s an absolute roller coaster.
Your goal is to see this movie. Optimist or pessimist. Conservative or liberal. This movie will change you and remind you of the power that each of us can hold, that each one of us is special and deserves to be loved. Head to the theaters to see this if you can or make a note to rent/download when it’s available. This is one of the best documentaries I’ve seen, potentially ever.