By: Henry J. Fromage (A Toast) –
Of all of the “remember the 80s, 90s, etc” nostalgia icons out there, Mr. Rogers might be the one we can all agree was awesome.
Even his (completely false) urban legends are the best.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? tells his story through the words of his loved ones and collaborators and more heart-rending stock footage than you can shake a stick at.
Director Morgan Neville of 20 Feet from Stardom fame mostly gets out of the way of all of the great material and interviews he had to choose from (his animated interludes toe the line) and it’s a wise approach. The genius of this film is how it endeavors to remove all barriers to our access to this remarkable man, a Christian minister who decided his calling was the very secular world of television, a fierce and eloquent defender of his principles, a pacifist and lover of humanity who decided the best medium to spread that love was the one that already had ensnared the attention of the nation like no other.
This is no hagiography, though- Neville takes a warts and all approach to the extent that there were any warts to highlight. Probably the worst was his asking of Francois Clemmons, who played Officer Clemmons on the show for years, not to visit gay clubs any longer because he was worried about the effect it would have on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood if it came out. Later, Clemmons breaks down after telling an anecdote where he told Mr. Rogers that “I think you really mean it when you say you love me.” and Rogers replied “Finally you understand what I’ve been trying to tell you all these years.”
That’s the part where I started to cry. And make no mistake, you will cry, either at this, or his interactions with Jeff Erlanger (stick around for the credits and prepare to cry some more), or Yo-Yo Ma describing how he would play for Mr. Rogers over the phone towards the end… this film is as pure of a soul test yet devised, and dear reader, I have full confidence that you have a soul. So you will cry.
God.Dammit. Is it pollen season again?
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is a remarkable and inspiring film that assures us that we must never lose sight of our inner child to be able to love others as deeply as we should.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever Mr. Rogers puts on his sweater
Take a Drink: whenever he sings
Take a Drink: whenever somebody says something profound and heart-wrenching
Do a Shot: whenever you tear up. You will tear up.