Review: Won't You Be My Neighbour (Sundance)

Won't You Be My Neighbour (Sundance)
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PLOT: The life and career of beloved children’s entertainer Fred Rogers, from his humble beginnings as a seminary student, to his eventual iconic rise as the star of “Mister Rogers’s Neighborhood.”

REVIEW: To those of us of a certain age, Mister Rogers is an indelible part of our childhood. “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” ran from 1963 all the way to 2001, and if you were born between say, 1958-1998, you knew who he was and, probably, loved him at some point. He was the beloved surrogate parent to millions, but it’s not enough for people to take his ordinary decency at face value. People can’t seem to talk about him without cheeky innuendo, which is why Morgan Neville’s documentary is so necessary.

No tell-all, WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR reveals what many of us suspected all along – that Mister Rogers was exactly what he seemed to be – a nice guy. To closest thing to controversy is that Neville’s doc reveals that the Republican Rogers was a touch conservative, but not in an oppressive way. Francois Clemmons, aka Officer Clemmons reveals that, while Rogers maybe was slightly ill at ease with his homosexuality early on, it was never an issue between the two of them, and that he came to love Rogers as a surrogate father, even if he suspected Rogers didn’t quite understand his choice of lifestyle. On many issues, such as civil rights, the ordained Presbyterian minister was way ahead of the pack, emphasizing diversity in his cast, and making all the kids he entertained feel important regardless of race, gender, religion or anything else.

With him being such an all-around nice guy, one might assume WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR would be on the dull side, but that’s not at all the case. While Rogers never had much personal strife, he still had to deal with plenty of flak from those who wanted to jazz up his show or didn’t get what he was doing. Most memorable is show-stopping footage from a congressional hearing he attended in the sixties in order to get $20 million worth of funding for PBS. The man in charge was all-set to shoot them down, even mocking Rogers in the lead up to his speech, only to be moved to tears by the man’s utter humility and kindness. It’s scenes like these that make you realize just how special he was.

One thing that’s kinda sad about the doc is that it’s clear as day that people like Fred Rogers are in precious short-supply. Here’s a guy who never had a whiff of controversy around him, never put on airs, and was exactly what he said he was – a fact confirmed over and over by colleagues, friends and family. That this doc is leading to a resurgence in popularity for him is a wonderful thing indeed, with Focus giving this a major theatrical release this summer, and none other than that other paragon of decency, Tom Hanks, signing on the play him in the upcoming movie version. WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR is a very special doc, and a reminder of how, when the right person gets the opportunity, media can indeed be used to make lives better.

Source: JoBlo.com



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