Our Neighbor at Home (Documentary Review: “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?)

Sure to put a smile on your face and a tear in your eye, the story of the unlikely rise of Fred Rogers, whose pioneering childrens’ TV show left an indelible mark on an entire generation of kids everywhere.

SnapShot Plot

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is the documentary from 2018 upon which the recent Tom Hanks feature film is based. And for troubled times such as the one in which the entire world is currently floundering, it’s the perfect salve for a solo weekend of self-quarantine.

Fred Rogers has got to be the least likely person in history to succeed in a medium for which he had no experience or prior interest, not to mention the fact that TV was itself very much in its infancy. Growing up a chronically sick child, Fred was often house-bound and had to rely on his imagination to entertain his lonely days alone in his bedroom. As he grew up, he felt a calling to Ministry and decided to dedicate his future to the Lord, when quite suddenly he made an about face and decided to try and use this new mass communication medium to reach children in a way that had never been done before. He was convinced that his mission lay in discovering in-roads to that place deep within a child’s heart where the truest thoughts and feelings were often trapped and silenced by adults and their expectations of normal child behavior. Much like a child himself, Fred instinctively knew that with a simple approach based on love, respect and honesty, he could bridge that gap and make those connections.

This intriguing documentary answers every question the public has ever had about the mild-mannered Mr. Rogers, who many have felt couldn’t have been half as good in real life as his decades-long public persona. The good news here is that – according to all who knew him – the man indeed matched his legacy.

Parting Shot

Academy Award-winning filmmaker Morgan Neville (20 Feet from Stardom) premiered Won’t You Be My Neighbor? at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, after which it went on to earn over $22 million, making it the top-grossing biographical documentary ever produced and the 12th largest-grossing documentary ever produced. Perhaps not surprising, given what a magic little pill this film became. To even the most jaded among us, whose cynicism often takes the place where idealism used to reside, there’s no turning away from the sincere decency of Fred Rogers. He spoke plainly and honestly to children on an equal level, never down to them. He believed that the unsettling tides of modern life affected them deeply, and strove to address their confusions rather than masking them with vulgar exploits. He accomplished this with a recipe of equal parts Kindness and Love. And the irony is that as much as Mr. Rogers’ appeal was to children, the hearts he was healing were often of grown-up proportion, too.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is presently streaming on HBO/Amazon Prime.

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YouTube Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FhwktRDG_aQ

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