Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is a brilliant piece of filmmaking; it’s the rare documentary that is able to trace the impact of an individual on the a larger cultural movement as well as singling out his specific achievements. The documentary does a great job at tracking Fred Rogers’s journey from childhood to his career on television and eventual stardom, but what makes it such a moving piece of work is the pureness of Rogers’s personality; here was a man whose purity and compassion made him peculiar, and Won’t You Be My Neighbor? beautifully takes the time to look at how these core values educated people in their darkest times.
While the film follows a fairly straightforward path of Rogers’s origins on television and tracks the success of his series henceforth, the documentary smartly focuses on clustered thematic ideas, showing how Rogers crafted his characters based on the people in his life and how he used current events to craft the show’s storylines. The interviews give the perfect amount of personal connection needed to exemplify the importance of these events, yet it’s often that the film’s best moments are when it simply rolls footage of Rogers; here was a man that gave so much and cared deeply about people, and the purity of these acts of kindness feel all the more touching when considering Roger’s surroundings and troubles.
Perhaps the message of Won’t You Be My Neighbor? may be simple, and while the film does an impressive job at showing how an inventive man harnessed a new medium in order to attract an immense fanbase, it’s ultimately about the power of empathy and installing a sense of emotional maturity at a young age. Perhaps the most moving thing is that Rogers was at some points unaware of what an impact he had, and that his persona onscreen wasn’t a character. Anything considered even remotely radical about Rogers was done so out of compassion, and Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is a beautiful tribute. Grade: A+