Won’t You Be My Neighbor? takes a look at the life and legacy of Fred Rogers, the beloved American children’s television presenter; Three Identical Strangers does justice to its extraordinary real-life tale of three brothers.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? *****
*ing: Fred Rogers, Francois Clemmons, Yo-Yo Ma, Joe Negri, David Newell, Tom Junod, and Joanne Rogers
Directed by Morgan Neville
Tagline: A little kindness makes a world of difference.
Morgan Neville takes us on a stroll down memory lane in Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, a look at the life, work, and legacy of Fred Rogers, the beloved American children’s television presenter who educated and entertained kids for decades.
As affable as the man himself, the documentary sheds light on the events and ideas that inspired the Presbyterian minister to pursue a career in broadcasting and how it led to the creation and development of the unconventional Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood which went on to become one of the most iconic kids’ shows of all time.
We find out why Rogers gravitated towards children’s television and the impact he had on his audience as well as the (ridiculous) criticism he received from his detractors.
The film weaves archive footage of the late presenter - including clips from his shows and snippets from conversations - with interviews of his family members, co-workers, and journalists while employing the occasional creative touch - like beautiful animated sequences - to relay the thoughts and philosophies of the remarkable man who gently taught kindness, love, compassion, patience, and self-acceptance to kids, and who did not shy away from having sincere, earnest discussions about difficult topics with his young viewers.
This isn’t exactly an all-encompassing look at his life. Those expecting a more personal slant - like thorough details about his family and upbringing, for instance - will not find what they are looking for here. The documentary touches upon Rogers’ background and life as it explores his television career, but the focus primarily remains on his work and ideas.
Those who grew up watching Neighborhood will bask in the warmth of the nostalgia this film invokes. But even those who weren’t lucky enough to experience Fred Rogers’s charm when they were children will still find the documentary engrossing simply because it’s hard not to find its one-of-a-kind, peculiar, wonderful subject interesting.
As far as documentaries go, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is fairly straightforward and doesn’t reveal any surprises. But there is no resisting the emotional response this film will draw from you. There are parts that will make you smile; there are parts that will make you tear up; and in the end you will be left with a reminder of the power of kindness and love, much needed in our divisive times. Ultimately, this revisit to the world of Fred Rogers will make your day special, because surely there was no person in the whole world quite like him.
Three Identical Strangers*****
*ing: Edward Galland, David Kellman, and Robert Shafran
Directed by Tim Wardle
Tagline: The most amazing, incredible, remarkable true story ever told.
On his first day of college, Bobby Shafran is bewildered by the overly warm welcome he is receiving from his fellow students. What’s bewildering him even more though is the fact that everyone keeps calling him "Eddy". The realization that he has a doppelgänger leads to the reunion of the identical brothers, a story that generates considerable media interest. And then things get even more bizarre when David Kellman and his family and friends come across a newspaper article about Bobby and Eddy and are shocked by David’s undeniable resemblance to the recently united brothers.
That’s how Bobby, Eddy, and David - American triplets separated at birth - incredibly find their way back to each other at the age of 19.
But just when you think you’re about to get a feel-good tale, things take a disturbingly sinister turn.
Why were the boys separated as infants? Why were their adoptive parents not told about the split? How did they end up with families at three different economic levels? As the triplets and their adoptive parents try to unravel the mystery behind the brothers’ separation, they are shocked by what they uncover.
The film has to work around a couple of constraints but it does so quite well. And while it can’t answer all the questions that come up, that is simply because it does not have access to all the answers; but this never feels like a shortcoming and only helps to illustrate the frustration its subjects must feel.
There is joy and wit and anguish and utter devastation at the various stages of the documentary, all captured beautifully by Tim Wardle. The brothers recount their strange experience with the help of close friends and family members, and the presence of actual footage from their lives makes for a riveting viewing experience.
The less you know about the events behind the documentary, the more you’ll be intrigued by the proceedings as the pieces fall together. But the film even remains compelling on repeat viewing, and its heartbreak remains just as affecting.
Built around what is quite possibly the most surreal story you’ll ever hear, the very engaging and thought-provoking Three Identical Strangers does justice to its extraordinary real-life tale and effortlessly proves that reality sure can be stranger - and perhaps even more disturbing - than fiction.
Rating system: *Not on your life * ½ If you really must waste your time ** Hardly worth the bother ** ½ Okay for a slow afternoon only *** Good enough for a look see *** ½ Recommended viewing **** Don’t miss it **** ½ Almost perfect ***** Perfection