Watson Reviews: Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (Spoiler Free)

Let’s face it. The world is in disarray. Our public discourse is in the toilet. Hate is spewed in 140 characters on Twitter. Old alliances are crumbling. The Star Wars franchise has become middling at best. We all need to revisit a simpler time.WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

Morgan Neville, Oscar winning director of 20 Feet From Stardom, brings us that quiet relief in the form of Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, a warm and much needed look at the life and career of TV legend, Fred Rogers.

The story begins in the 1950s when a young college student decides to put the seminary on hold to go into a burgeoning new medium called television. A purist from the start, Rogers is dissatisfied with the loud, “pie in the face” usage of an important medium.

Over the next half a century, Mr Rogers delivers emotional and societal lessons in a simple, sweet manner; always eager to preach love and compassion.

WHAT WORKED:

  • The message of the documentary is just as simple as the message of the man himself.  Mr Rogers was just a better person than most of us. A minister, his style of preaching was never holier than thou. It was never judgmental. He simply led a good life and told others why kindness and acceptance was important. Whatever your religious affiliation, this is a positive way to live.
  • The genuine goodness of Fred Rogers is timeless. Let’s face it. Mr Rogers was corny. Heck, he was already corny in the 1950s. But his corniness was never condescending. Nor is the coverage of him as a subject condescending. Neville simply presents the amazing man as he was and you have no choice but to be amazed.
  • The show and the documentary serve as a time capsule of major American events. From the Vietnam War, to the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, to advocacy for civil rights, to the Challenger disaster…even coming out of retirement to speak about 9/11…Mr Rogers was there to help kids (and adults) through our most difficult days. You will watch this film with moist eyes for two hours.

WHAT DIDN’T WORK:

  • The contrast with modern events is very jarring Ok…this was what actually worked really well, so I am cheating and calling it a negative to fill space. This is probably the most important thing in the film, it is just difficult. In the very first week of his show in the 1950s, he literally did programs where King Friday the 13th was hostile to outsiders and decided to build a wall. Mr Rogers talked even then about how that was wrong and you can’t help but compare it to when the exact same words are used today.
  • If you are waiting for the seedy side, keep waiting. Most documentaries love that pivot moment where things go south. Where the hero becomes the villain. They never really did for Mr Rogers so there is no Dun-Dun-Dun! moment. The closest we get to disappointment is that he wasn’t as progressive on gay rights from the beginning. He was loving and tolerant, but he wasn’t as brave as he could have been at a time where people felt different and could have used a happy song.
  • They didn’t show the footage below! Rogers had a cheeky side even as goodie goodie as he was, and that was shown in the film. I would have loved to have seen this story re-told, though. A missed opportunity!

FINAL THOUGHTS:

The negativity he fought against consumed Fred Rogers in his final days. He was prone to telling friends and loved ones that he was worried he hadn’t made a difference. In the 15 years since his death, it has only gotten worse.

Think of how depressed he’d be with trash TV, Twitter, and Trump? Fred Rogers’ days are not behind us because we were never really worthy of his positive nature and his warmth. But he gave it to us anyway. Because he was just that kind of neighbor.

Overall, I give WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? 10Non-Diva Wardrobe Changes out of 10.

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