Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018) reviewed by Jonathan Berk

I grew up watching Mr. Rogers in the ‘80s. As I grew older, my cynicism did too, and it caused me to scoff at the show that greatly impacted my childhood. Now, in a time where I often feel there is so much negativity, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018) reminds us all that a little optimism goes a long way.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is a moving documentary

Director Morgan Neville crafts a documentary that examines the life of Fred Rogers – specifically his use of television to deliver his message of the importance of love. The film uses a series of good interviews, clips from the show, and behind the scenes footage to expertly craft a compelling narrative. When it was all over, I don’t believe there was a dry eye in the Zach Theater at SXSW.  

For me, the optimism this documentary brings is such a breath of fresh air. However, exhaling that breath and inhaling the next yields a stench of rotten trash which fills your nostrils once the realization sets in that Fred Rogers is gone. The revelation of the negativity present in our current world is by far the hardest part about watching this film. Otherwise, the just over 90 minute run time goes by quickly, as Neville weaves you through the person that Fred Rogers was and how immensely he cared for children.

The topics that Rogers and his show tackled were impressive. There were episodes of the show that dealt with topics from Vietnam War to civil rights, and from Bobby Kennedy’s assassination to divorce. He introduced topics to children in a way that clearly helped guide them to answers without being too scary. Everything he did emphasized the idea that everyone is lovable, and that they should be willing to love.

Final thoughts…

I’m finding it much harder to write about this film without going into specifics. Yet, I feel discussing too much of the movie would alter the experience of seeing it. The interviews are clearly people who loved the man, and it shows. It’s likely that there are people who have discouraging things to say about Rogers, but this documentary definitely doesn’t look to show that. However, the reality that Neville crafts is so joyous and hopeful, I’m glad that there wasn’t anything to tarnish it. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? earns the Must See rating.

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