Category: Reviews – New Releases/Festivals

Image courtesy of Focus Features.

*** (out of 4)

On the surface, Morgan Neville’s new documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, might appear to be yet another misbegotten piece of well-intentioned but cloying glop. The subject of the film, after all, is Fred Rogers, the television host who won the adoration of an entire generation of Americans with his childlike smile, aw-shucks persona, and ability to sing things like “I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you!” The movie’s trailer, moreover, isn’t exactly an exercise in restraint. In its usage of sentimental music – plus blurbs that prominently feature words like “kindness” and “empathy” – it makes the film out to be the latest exemplar (after last May’s RBG) of nauseatingly fawning idolatry.

Fortunately, the good news is that Won’t actually turns out to be anything but schmaltzy, thanks in large part to Neville’s willingness to expose Rogers’ imperfections.

Reviews - New Releases/Festivals

Reviews - New Releases/Festivals

Image courtesy of A24.

** ½ (out of 4)

Paul Schrader has had his fair share of ups and downs in his decades-long career as a director-screenwriter. At their best, his works demonstrate a masterful use of technique, and they effectively capture the alienation and pent-up resentment that can drive individuals towards extremism. (Think Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, which Schrader wrote.) At their worst, however, Schrader’s films are too didactic for comfort, undermining themselves with their stubborn insistence on reiterating the same basic messages over and over. (For two characteristic examples of this, see Blue Collar and Affliction, both of which Schrader directed and wrote.)

In some ways, First Reformed constitutes a synthesis of Schrader’s best and worst traits, combining his focus on individual alienation, his stylistic prowess, and his monotonous didacticism to make a work that’s interesting but ultimately flawed.

Reviews - New Releases/Festivals