I'd never heard of Fred Rogers before and I was floored. It is a sign of our depressing times that while I was watching the it, I was half expecting something terrible to come up about the guy but goddamn if he wasn't not only a national treasure for how he communicated with kids, but also a wonderful real person. And as an introduction to his life and work, this was just an amazing, emotional watch.
As an Australian kid born in the 90s, I never grew up with Mr Rogers and his radical positivity. Maybe I would be happier. Just a little. That sounds hyperbolic but I don't remember the last time I cried as much in a film, just simply by hearing Fred Rogers' belief in how inherently special we all are. A beautiful man who transformed vulnerability and pain into something profound and hopeful. I adored it.
Neville has made docs about pop stars, Gore Vidal, and Orson Welles, and here he makes the case that a Presbyterian in a sweater-vest was just as iconoclastic. Neville's stamp is expanding upon media nostalgia, his idiom a simple immediacy that touches on more than it explores. But this collates, sometimes beautifully, adult experience and ageless feeling to a world of children's TV too easily regarded as disposable.
In a society that sells extra violent material in television to children comes a man with an ideal: to teach those very young fellas about love, friendship, hate, racism, murder, divorce and everything that comes to an innocent and always questioning mind. It is timeless, it is actually more NOW and urgent than anything. I like you just the way you are. <3
The most shocking revelation (to me, that is) is that Fred Rogers was a Republican. If you think about what the Republican party today is - i.e. Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan, Betsy DeVos, Jeff Sessions and the likes - and stands for - among other things, racism, bigotry, patriarchy, white supremacy, destruction of the environment, ignorance and violence - the resulting cognitive dissonance is too much to bear.
Fred Rogers was an unsung radical, living a life of such raw vulnerability, such an honest need to tell humans that they have innate value, such an imperative to grow children with more love than the world seems willing to give them. In a deeply cynical world –– one that looks at Mr. Rogers with suspicion, or mocking –– that's true radicalism.
From a technical standpoint, this isn't a great movie. It's basically talking heads and archival footage. What is great, however, is the emotions the movie will stir in you. For the generations who grew up with Fred Rogers, it will be a fitting tribute and a dose of nostalgia. For those unfamiliar with him--he's been gone for 15 years--perhaps the film will inspire a new version of him.