Jeff's Reviews

Thoughts on every movie I've ever seen.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018)

Directed by Morgan Neville

Starring Joanne Rogers, Betty Aberlin, McColm Cephas Jr., Fran├žois Scarborough Clemmons


As a kid, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood had unbelievably corny levels of friendliness and warmth. So over-the-top that it was often hard to watch. Who knew it was genuine and motivated such by a poignant and insightful philosophy?

Rogers describes the first time he watched television. At the very inception of mass media, he was able to foresee the power it would have over children. And he recognized that consumerist, silly, and violent programming was inherently bad for children, thinking instead that television should be used as a tool to reach and help them. This was a profoundly important moment in the history of television and child-rearing.

He would go on to tackle some pretty heavy topics on the show, whether it was being with disabled children or dealing with the death of a pet to tackling larger social issues like racism or war or assassinations. It took a lot of courage and care to navigate these complicated and controversial issues with kids in a way that was truly honest and helpful. And his warbly but always articulate and eloquent speech was a part of his charm.

In his congressional hearings and interviews, he would be honest and insightful. He would say that feelings should be mentionable and manageable, that people should be loved and capable of loving, that what children need most is to be loved and to be protected and to be guided through the complicated emotions and situations of life. This is good stuff, important lessons that are lost on a lot of today’s parents. And to share these most important human truths, quite often rooted in deep religious belief, without once making his show about religion, allowed him to reach a much greater audience. I wonder how many times he even mentioned the word “God” in all of his shows.

Rogers came along at just the right time and did just what he had to do in just the right way. We may never see another man like him. We live in a different time, where the demands of kids and parents and profit-seeking networks will not allow hosts and subject matter like this to be on television anytime soon.

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry. An amazing collection of footage, marvelously edited with really wonderful interviews from all the right people. There were bits and pieces about Rogers’ childhood, but I would have liked to learn more about his parents and background. What makes a man like this?

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