For millions of people, when they were kids, Mr. Rogers was a notable influence in their lives. Fred Rogers was not just a children’s entertainer. He was a protector of sorts, someone who actually cared. This week, a documentary about his life hits screens. It’s called Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and not just is the best doc in years (since the Roger Ebert one Life Itself), it’s one of the very best movies of 2018 overall. There simply isn’t anything else out there like it. Bring your tissues too, ladies and gentlemen, because you will cry. I teared up on multiple occasions.
The documentary is a biographical look at Fred Rogers, the mastermind behind the classic children’s television show Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. The IMDb synopsis is brief, just stating the following: “An exploration of the life, lessons, and legacy of iconic children’s television host, Fred Rogers.” That’s pretty on point though, as Rogers is depicted as a genuine good soul, someone who wanted to educate, protect, and support the development of the world’s youth population. In some ways, Rogers is a relic, though in others, he’s needed now more than ever. One doesn’t have to think hard to imagine him taking the current President to task for his behavior. Oscar winning documentarian Morgan Neville directs, and this is his best work to date, bar none.
I loved this doc, and am not ashamed to say that I cried quite a bit during the film’s running time. For me, Mr. Rogers was there as I grew up. The ambitious lessons he was teaching were so ahead of his time. Plus, just the way he would say he likes you just the way you are. Even now, thinking of that while writing this, just brings a tear to my eye. There’s video out there of an elderly Rogers, shortly before his death, speaking to his adult fans, the ones who grew up with him, and telling them how proud he is of you. If you don’t turn into a puddle hearing his genuine pride at giving you the tools to be a happy person, well, you just might not be human.
There’s a scene that, despite being available elsewhere, you have to see in order to believe. Rogers actually testifies before a Senate Subcommittee when Public Television is risking having their funding cut. The Senator he needs to convince is almost cartoonish, seemingly having made up his mind. In about five minutes, speaking from the heart, he turns him around. It’s magic, showcasing how much he cared, his passion, and the legitimate desire he had to do right by children. Look at it below and see for yourself. It’s truly the sort of thing that you would never see happen today, and that’s a shame…
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? seems poised to be a huge Academy Award contender in Best Documentary Feature. It may between this and RBG for the Oscar all season long. In a just world, it would compete for a Best Picture nomination as well. Right now, it’s my number two film of the year, and could move up to my number one before long. If that doesn’t tell you how good the movie is, I don’t know what will. It’s a doc that pushes all the right buttons and leaves you with a yearning to have Rogers back in our lives.
Starting on Friday, audiences can join me in bawling at Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, the best documentary of the year so far. It’s a must see, plain and simple. One of the things I wrote on Social Media right after seeing it kind of sums things up: “Television gave us the Kardashians and Trump, but it also gave us Fred Rogers. Even at 31 years old, when I hear him say he likes you just the way you are, I feel like he’s talking to me.” Do yourself a favor and check out this doc. You’ll be glad that you did…
Be sure to check out Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, opening in theaters this weekend!