REVIEW: Won't You Be My Neighbor? Is A Poignant Meditation On The Value Of Kindness
Going into Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, one could be forgiven for potential worries over how it treats a beloved icon like Fred Rogers. You have to walk an extremely tightrope where you’re neither deifying or demonizing the man in question. Falling into either category could spell disaster. Thankfully, this isn’t a film that sands the edges of its subject matter to produce little more than a shrine to his legacy. Don’t get me wrong, this is unquestionably respectful of his legacy and who he was as a person; however, it also looks deep into how he was just as human as anyone else beyond his televised morals (proving to be just as insecure and of the world around them as any other person in the world).
As a documentary, the technical details are top-notch; but, that’s kind of expected when you buy the ticket. Sure, the music’s lovely, the editing is smooth and it all seems polished to perfection. All of that is expected when you see any documentary. What matters is what all of those filmmaking tools are used for and what it's all used for is quite marvelous. The stories from various crew members and those close to Rogers are all insightful, fascinating and occasionally subvert expectations. They vary from the meaning behind little details (which, I might add, are far too satisfying to spoil) such as the number 143, the radical nature of simple things like having a prominent African-American character on his show or talking to children about heavy subjects. There are even a few animated segments that are only mere seconds long involving a small tiger are used subtly yet effectively to symbolize the mindset and insecurities of Rogers. Little touches like this do wonders to humanize its subject matter.
Great works of art often stick with you long after you’ve experienced them. Those that go a step further to spark some deep conversations and trains of thought are even more special. Films like that deserve as much attention as they can get and this is no exception. This got me thinking hard. Like what I could do to live up to this idea of kindness that arguably feels just as revolutionary now as it did in its heyday. Is there a person like him now? More importantly, can there be someone like Fred Rogers in this day and age? Now, I realize that this may not be the best film of the year nor is it my favorite; however, I feel strongly confident in saying that it is indeed the most important movie of 2018. Needless, to say, we live in very divided times. As a simple reminder of what wonders can be accomplished with seeing the best in the people that surround you as well as the world they inhabit, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is human, poignant, educational, soulful and absolutely worth your time. Whenever you get the chance (be it at your local multiplex or when it hits home video in a couple months), I implore you to give it a look.