Won't You Be My Neighbor? Review

I grew up in a house ostensibly without a television set.

This did not prevent me from knowing a great deal about television and television shows. I am as familiar with Brady Bunch episodes as anyone from my age group. At friends' and relatives' houses, I sat through a fair number of Happy Day episodes and a truly stunning number of Knight Rider episodes (which I have absolutely no desire to do now).

I saw episodes of Sesame Street and Electric Company. And Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood.

What I remember about Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood is that part of it bored me. I think, oddly enough, that it was the make-believe part; when the trolley left the house, I lost interest. However, that could be me as an adult mis-remembering my youth. It could have been the other way around. (I didn't like Punch & Judy shows when I was a kid, but that was probably the violence, not the puppets.)

In any case, I never watched the show all the way through.  So when I watched the documentary, I had no investment in what it told me about Mr. Rogers.

I came away from the documentary with two definite opinions:

(1) Anyone who makes it in show business is  ambitious. What amazed me about Rogers was how hard the guy worked AND how clearly he believed in his mission. He was legitimately nice, legitimately kind-hearted, legitimately relatively easy to work with. He was also legitimately motivated and determined.

Anyone who goes into show business has to be ambitious, motivated, and determined--and they have to sustain it. Which is why I ultimately chose English rather than Drama when I got my B.A.

(2) The documentary is a study in contrasts. What separates a honest, loving parody (Eddie Murphy's spoof, no matter how caustic) from a cruel, demeaning one? What separates a fair critique (Is so much self-esteem good for kids?) from an angry diatribe ("evil Mr. Rogers")? What separates true kindness from supposed political or religious righteousness?

The documentary doesn't tell us what to think. It simply presents the man and his work over time. However, it does not give space to detractors. In some ways, it resembles Fog of War. The main focus--in this case, Mr. Rogers--is showcased without irrelevant tangents into other people's approval or disapproval.

He is what he is. What are you going to do about it?

No comments: