Won't You Be My Neighbor

Morgan Neville’s crowd-pleasing documentary celebrates the work of Fred Rogers, whose long-running PBS series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood (1968-2001) demonstrated an uncanny understanding of children’s emotional lives. A Presbyterian minister, Rogers was apparently as wholesome offscreen as on, and though Neville collects some intriguing anecdotes from colleagues and family members (Rogers could be gruff on the job as he got older; he once prevailed on a cast member to conceal his homosexuality), the star’s private life is carefully protected. Nobody wants to hate on Mr. Rogers, so Neville quickly brushes aside the conservative criticism that Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, which exploded in popularity during the “Me Decade” of the 1970s, may have helped foster our modern American culture of self-involvement and hypersensitivity. This gentle, positive treatment of Rogers coincides with the show’s values but devalues his enormous social importance.