I can vividly remember hearing about Mister Rogers on many occasions during my early childhood. The elusive figure in a red cardigan was a childhood icon for practically every American born from 1968 to 2001. And while I was just a year old when he passed away, I can vividly remember hearing about his saintly stature, and can also remember how many times people tried to challenge is wholesome image. Walking into my screening, I saw a small stand with a assortment of travel packets of tissues. This may seem a bit odd (or even like a marketing tactic) but after witnessing the film, I know it isn’t.
Won't You Be My Neighbor? (2018) is a masterfully done portrait of one of the final wholesome icons we will likely ever receive. This documentary packs a punch with a detailed description of Fred Rogers life, and his life-long mission to provide children with love, emotions, and nourishment that was unpopular with TV at the time.
The film works so well because of its stripped down look at his life. Our generation (and those proceeding it) have always been taught to be weary of unabashed kindness, and that it isn’t normal. Many believe that you can’t be nice and thoughtful without having some alterior motive, and this doc is here to extinguish this mindset.
While the film doesn’t follow a traditional biographical structure (substituting interviews and behind the scenes footage for straight chronological content), it does a terrific job at slowly revealing the true colors of the picture perfect Rogers. We learn about his Christian background (and how his ideology affected his endeavors), his rough childhood, and most importantly his dedication to preserving childhood. This dedication even pushed Fred to go before congress and ask for $20 million in funding, which is shown in the film.
But on further analysis, I begin to realize why this doc attracted someone who doesn’t like documentaries (me): it’s deliberate structure. Throughout the film, we learn about how deliberate Fred was with his words, and how he greatly respected deliberate language and actions. This film perfectly embodies this idea, but somehow managing to create a character arc for a real life person. Throughout the film (especially towards the end of the second act) you begin to question if Fred really is the character that he portrayed, and this creates a sense of morality for the man who was so mysterious in his personal life.
In conclusion, I must say that Won't You Be My Neighbor? (2018) is easily the only film that I can say is flawless that i've seen thus far this year. I absolutely recommend rushing to see it when it opens in your area, so you can witness the love and spirit embodied in Fred Rogers.
Final Score: 10 out of 10
Won't You Be My Neighbor? • Runtime 1:34 • Rated PG-13 - for some thematic elements and language