February 21, 2019

Won't You Be My Neighbor (2018)


I think there are certain images we hold in our heads about what documentaries look like and what they are like to watch. This movie, to me, fits that classic description--it's quiet, it pulls heavily from original footage, there's a lovely voiceover narration, and it's chock full of interesting behind-the-scenes looks.

Of course, not all documentary subjects are created equal. For this one, the connection comes from a deeply ingrained nostalgia for the show so many of us grew up on. The sight of Mr. Rogers in his red sweater, tying his shoes, and grabbing the trolley stirs instant, albeit fuzzy, memories of childhood and a vague sense of comfort. I may not remember specific episodes of Mr. Roger's Neighborhood, but I distinctly remember watching, and loving, it.

So the way this movie is successful is by focusing on the show and nothing else. The entire documentary is about the show. Not Fred Roger's personal life, not lives of his family members or crew, or anything not directly affiliated with the show. Everything in the documentary relates only to the show. Its genesis. Its episodes. Its longevity and reach. Everything you've ever wanted (or in most people's cases, didn't know you wanted) to know about Mr. Roger's Neighborhood.

But even if you didn't grow up with Mr. Rogers telling you you're special and loved, this documentary is so well plotted and focused that it's interesting even to those who may not have been aware of the show previously. In fact, by the end, if you're not bemoaning the current state of children's television and calling your elected representatives to ensure continued funding for public broadcast stations, I'll wonder if you were even paying attention to the damn movie.

Final word: It was so good it even made me like Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood more.

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