Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

If you think Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is aimed only at children, think again. Audience conversations after showings of this film are studded with adults who are stunned by its relevance to their own lives right now in the present. It is a lovely biography of a man who years ago wanted to talk with children to help them discover who they really were in a world where the opinion of their peers often prevented exactly that. This documentary is a compelling study of Fred Rogers himself as well as a look at his influence on children. Add to that the relevance of his questions to all ages.

In 1967, Rogers found he could reach children through the new medium of television. He was not looking for TV success; he was looking at the new medium as a path to children in their young confusion in a way that would help them learn who they actually were inside, not who they were in relation to their peer groups. According to people who knew him and worked with him, Rogers was being his own self to a degree that made children talk openly. All who spoke here said he had not an ounce of wanting TV celebrity. He looked at his exposure only to the degree it helped him reach children. He reached them through 900 television shows.

The movie is filled with memorable scenes. A crippled young boy in a wheel chair in a visit with Rogers turns up years later as a confident adult, still wheelchair bound. He uses a film of Robert Kennedy’s assassination to answer one child’s question, “What is assassination?”
He doesn’t explain himself or his goals; he answers the questions that come from the children who trust him, and he uses deep concepts in simple words. Gently, he makes them understand they don’t have to do anything that troubles them to make people like them. How about that for all of us?

Silence is Rogers’ delight and as we watch him with children, we understand it was his way of reaching them. He stepped into their lives gently, and they began to talk. Their connection with each other is so unforced, so real, that many in the audience begin to translate Roger’s quiet wisdom into a lesson for themselves. He is a very different person from other TV personalities. He is so much himself, so real, that the audience absorbs his nature and comes out of the theater applying it to all ages.

The wide impact of this film may well be rooted in the anger that has rolled over our society right now, long after Fred Rogers’ death. Why is everyone so unable to let others believe what they want without wrapping it all in rage? Why are we so divided and so angry? Have we all become children again reacting so strongly to each other? This portrait of a fine man is a perfect message for its time.

Film Critic: Joan Ellis
Film Title: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
Word Count: 494
Running Time: 1:34
Rating: PG-13
Date: July 15, 2018

Damsel

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Damsel

During the first hour of Damsel, we are introduced to Sam (Robert Pattinson), a determined man heading west to find Penelope (Mia Wasikowski), the woman he has decided to marry. He has by his side a miniature horse named Butterscotch, in his pocket a wedding ring for Penelope, and on his shoulder a guitar. He searches for the Parson who will perform the marriage and finds him dead drunk lying on his back in the dirt. As they set off to find Penelope, we are wondering why we are supposed to like a movie about an oddball man searching for his woman, a drunk Parson, and a miniature horse.

Our wondering begins to melt when the two men find the cabin where Penelope lives with Anton, the man she loves. Sam and the timid Parson (David Zellner) sneak forward until Penelope’s lover comes outside to relieve himself. Bam. The lover goes down. When Penelope emerges to the awful sight, the movie takes off in the direction it has been preparing us for. This story that unfolds in pre-feminist 1870 is a comic modern take on the real-life roles men have been playing for generations.

Now we begin to understand what writer/director brothers David and Nathan Zellner are up to. The pony, of course, is treated well by everyone; no discussion about that. The men are simple minded relics as they continue to expect to have everything their own way.

Doesn’t every woman wait for the man she likes to make all the moves toward permanence? If the man has decided which woman he wants, doesn’t he already own her even if she loves someone else? For a man, isn’t the whole outdoors his private bathroom? Isn’t it the man who chooses the ring and decides when to give it? Isn’t the miniature horse the perfect anchor for a woman? Once in charge, won’t the man announce where they will live and what each will do? Doesn’t the man always use weaker men to advance his schemes? Hasn’t this all been happening for centuries?

Wrapped in grand exaggeration, Mia Wasikowski’s Penelope hammers home historic male entitlement. She fires back the modern feelings women have toward male dominance. Silent only when the men’s words and behavior are beyond believing she makes us laugh in recognition. As Wasikowski stands strong and ridicules traditional male ways, her performance is made of steel.

Damsel is the brainchild and questionable gift of David Zellner and Nathan Zellner who wrote, directed and acted one of the roles. Their clash of modern values erupts against beautiful western scenery where they create two dense traditional men against one smart woman who has already evolved into the norms of today. It may be set in 1870 but its roots are still present and the two Zellners make us cringe as they face Mia Wasikowski’s terrific Penelope who saw through it all many decades ago. This is a strange one. Odd plot, odd acting. Only you can guess whether you’ll like it.

Film Critic: Joan Ellis
Film Title: Damsel
Word Count: 501
Running Time: 1:53
Rating: R