Skip to main content

Review: 'Won't You Be My Neighbor?'


Ever since the trailer for director Morgan Neville’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor? dropped earlier this spring, fans of the beloved kids’ show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, have been sharing their reactions to the emotionally powerful preview that has undoubtedly stirred up countless childhood memories. As for the documentary itself, which looks back on the impactful legacy of Fred Rogers, the man behind the long-running TV program, it is guaranteed to open even more floodgates of nostalgia.

“Although Fred Rogers was an ordained minister, he didn’t preach when he was on TV,” the Academy Award-winning Neville states. “He was far more interested in asking questions and offering ideas that could help guide his viewers on their own journey in life.” And with this sterling doc, the filmmaker succeeds in taking Rogers’ lead and exploring the groundbreaking and powerful ideas that were subtly communicated within the show throughout several decades.

As a result, Neighbor is a beautiful tribute as well as a testament to the power of empathy. It’s the soothing balm we need for this divisive Era of Outrage. It’s also one of the best movies I’ve seen this year thus far.

The film takes a deep and insightful dive into the off-camera life of Rogers and poses the question: Is he really like his TV persona in real life? Is he more than just a friendly, soft-spoken man with a penchant for cardigans? The answer is yes…and yes.

Punctuated by beautiful animation and loaded with rare and fascinating behind-the-scenes Mister Rogers footage, the film seamlessly bounces back and forth between the harsh real world events that played out on American TV sets at the time and the simple, nuanced lessons Rogers doled out on his show — whether it was in his living room, interacting with his friendly neighborhood servicemen, or in the Land of Make Believe, the fantasy realm in which the lives of royal puppets paralleled those of the Land of Grown-Ups.

What Neighbor also does is prove how revolutionary Rogers’ show was during a pivotal cultural shift in the country. A simple gesture like sharing a wading pool with an African-American policeman during the height of the Civil Rights movement — on public television — was more daring than anything found on broadcast networks at the time. And tackling the definition of “assassination” with child surrogate Daniel Tiger is both scary and a relief all at once.

Through it all, you never feel as if Neville & Co. are blatantly tugging at your heartstrings, exploiting your own personal connection to Mister Rogers. All the feels (and yes, some tears) come naturally, especially when the film revisits a poignant 1980 exchange between the host and young quadriplegic Jeffrey Erlanger, whose appearance on the show resonated with viewers — and still does.

Neighbor, which is ripe for a Best Documentary nod next year, reminds audiences of the importance of seeing the world through a child’s eye, yes, but it also asks viewers to stop, listen, and rediscover each other. And what can be more powerful than that?

@TheFirstEcho




Comments

Popular posts from this blog


13 Things You Probably Didn't Know About 'The Golden Girls'

When one nostalgically binges on all seven seasons of The Golden Girls like me (I swear I have a life), you pick up on a few things. Certain patterns appear as you continuously witness the consumption of countless cheesecakes inside a fictitious Miami kitchen and hear one St. Olaf story too many.

Here's what I noticed after playing my DVDs of this 80s classic over the past several months (and if you're already familiar with the following factoids, excuse me for underestimating your fanaticism)...

1. Actor Harold Gould, who played Rose's long-term boyfriend Miles Webber from Season 5 to Season 7 (and throughout most of the short-lived spinoff, The Golden Palace), also appears in the first season as Arnie Peterson, Rose's first serious beau after her husband's death.

2. The same can be said for Sid Melton, who played Sophia's deceased husband Sal (in flashbacks and dream sequences). He also appears in a Season 6 episode as a jester in a medieval-themed restauran…

Just Because: 9 Music Videos That Take Place in Laundromats

It's one of the biggest music video tropes that's rarely explored in pop culture.

The public laundromat has become a go-to location for artists when making a music video for a single they wish to sell to the masses.

But WHAT IS IT about a space where ragtag groups of strangers gather to fluff and fold their delicates? Is it the obvious metaphor of dirty versus clean? The scintillating possibility of people stripping off their clothes for a wash?

I was feeling a little nostalgic (as usual) and took a look at some of the vids that have fallen under the spell of spin cycles over the past 30 years...

"EVERY HEARTBEAT" / AMY GRANT (1991)

Back in the early 90s, the Christian pop tart followed up her massively successful "Baby Baby" with "Every Heartbeat," a personal childhood favorite of yours truly (the Body & Soul Mix, of course). In one of the two vignettes featured in the video, a laundry-toting hottie attempts to flirt with a young woman who re…

The Year My Childhood Was Literally Destroyed: Remembering Blessed Sacrament Elementary

2020 is already proving to be an emotionally challenging and bizarre year -- to put it mildly.

Barely three months in, our world is being filled with near-dystopian levels of absurdity. While watching an increasingly corrupt and inept administration fumble through the dawn of a global pandemic (the likes of which have already claimed the health of national treasure Tom Hanks), I recently learned that Blessed Sacrament Elementary, the school I attended from the ages of 4 to 14, will be demolished to make way for (what else?) modern, state-of-the-art residences. These sleek and stylish apartments (see a rendering below) are to accommodate the influx of Manhattan commuters who have been gradually populating the downtown sector of my hometown, New Rochelle, New York...which also happens to be the location of the first COVID-19 containment zone in the U.S.

But this isn't about the coronavirus and the panic it has rapidly spread, prompting everyone and their Boomer parents to go out an…