*** (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.