Movie Review: Won't You Be My Neighbor?
While this week’s review is not a new theatrical release, this is a film that has just recently received a home release. The popular documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, follows the life and philosophy of television icon, Fred Rogers. It was directed by Morgan Neville, the filmmaker behind the Academy Award winning documentary, 20 Feet from Stardom. The film includes interviews with many who worked and knew Mister Rogers, including François Scarborough Clemmons, McColm Cephas Jr., Kailyn Davis, his two sons, and his wife, Joanne Rogers. The film premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival and was released in theaters in June. It has since gone on to earn $22 million at the box office, making it the highest-grossing biographical documentary of all time.
So, normally I would offer a short synopsis of the film, but since it’s a documentary, this synopsis will look a little differently than normal. The documentary traces the beginning of Rogers’ time on television, which was an unexpected move for an ordained Presbyterian minister. The film goes on to cover the premiere of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and the mindset behind the show. It also covers his personal history and how his personal beliefs and studies of children psychology influenced the topics and structure of the show.
Personally, I think that Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is a film that everyone should watch at least once. My brother and I grew up watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, so there was a certain amount of nostalgia that accompanied our viewing of this documentary. Fred Rogers was understandably known for his different sweaters and memorable music from the show. However, this documentary highlighted so much more than those things. It covered in-depth just how he came to be convinced of his philosophies regarding children and their development. It traced in detail when the show began and how its popularity exploded, and it also covered Rogers’ involvement in saving free public television services.
More than anything else, though, it covered just how much Fred Rogers tried to live out everything he left with countless generations. His whole philosophy boiled down to every child needing to know they are important, valued, and loved, and he constantly demonstrated how much that message changed people. He tackled subjects on his show that no other person wanted to discuss and did not just play into the hands of every other entertainment station. He tackled the serious topics of assassinations, death, and divorce, and he did so in a way that showed respect to every child. He was not afraid to talk about emotions and healthy ways of dealing with them, and a lot of what he imparted to others was influenced by his personal faith.
The interviews and numerous clips tell the story of a man who strived to let other people know they were dearly loved. I think the thing I loved most about this documentary was how it captured Mister Rogers’ own personal struggles and childhood journey and how those things impacted his approach to his show. The film goes to show that he was truly an exceptional man with an incredible vision, and I think it was fascinating to view this childhood icon through the eyes of an adult. He challenged the problems of his day through loving on the very people experiencing difficulties, and it was groundbreaking to see that exposed on the documentary. At the end of the day, I have to recommend that you grab a box of tissues and watch this story of a man who left a legacy of love. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is definitely a documentary worth watching.
Mollie is a film enthusiast, aspiring writer/screenwriter, and a lover of all things Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Doctor Who. She is the co-founder of The Digital Shore (@thedigitalshore) and Above The Line (@atl_movies). You can follow her many adventures through Twitter and Instagram at @mcbeach.