Sunday, May 27, 2018

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

Last night I saw Won't You Be My Neighbor?—a documentary about the career of Fred Rogers.

Through archival footage of the legendary Mister Rogers' Neighborhood program to old interviews with Rogers himself and current discussions with his family, friends and colleagues, Director Morgan Neville pieces together a triumphant public life.

It's not a biography in the sense that we see Mr. Rogers' life story, because we don't—in fact very little time is spent on his life before becoming the iconic children's show host—but that's okay. What we do see is so moving and sweet, it's well worth the price of admission. Aside from his television persona, we learn he behaved the same way (letting kindness be his guide) in real life and had a great sense of humor as well.

The Pittsburgh-based minister who had an uncommon (but perfectly respectable) affection for children broke through more barriers that my young self, an avid watcher of the show in the late '70s and early '80s, remembers. I don't recall the episode where he invited the black cop to join him in the pool shortly after an incident in real life where whites poured cleaning agents into a community pool to chase the black people out. I don't remember his acceptance of gay people or his hard discussions with kids about divorce.

But all of those episodes happened, and our world was better for it.

What I do remember was the calming voice of a man who felt like the grandfather I never knew; a man who was far more gentle than the men I grew up around. A place where puppets had lives, music was plentiful and cardigans were always in style.

This documentary couldn't have come at a more perfect time—our world is in desperate need of folks who demonstrate kindness as a way of life.

It should be required viewing in all schools, workplaces and houses of worship. We need the refresher course.


On Chesil Beach

On Friday night I saw On Chesil Beach, starring Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle.

Florence (Ronan) and Edward (Howle) are a young couple, madly in love. They've just been married and are beginning to enjoy their honeymoon on the beach, indulging in a fancy dinner, then retiring to bed to do what honeymooning couples do.

This is the entirety of the film, which was originally based on the novella of the same name. Author Ian McEwan adapted his own work here for the big screen and the story stays strong, but feels more like a play than a film.

Each scene, placed carefully in between the scenario I detailed above, is a flashback that gives us more insight into how the two came together and what their lives were like growing up. One had a well-to-do family; the other struggled with a mentally ill parent. One was welcomed with open arms into the other's family; the other not so much.

Each vignette gives us clues as to why their honeymoon is so filled with tension and somewhat cleverly begins to draw us in to both characters.

To put it more plainly, I didn't know I was emotionally invested in either of them until one of the final scenes, when I effortlessly burst into tears.

Wonderful storytelling in an unconventional way with two brilliant actors.

If you're fascinated by love and relationships as I am, you should see this film.


Tuesday, May 22, 2018


Last night I saw RGB, a documentary about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Most Americans are aware of the liberal-leaning Supreme Court Justice who has adapted the nickname "Notorious RGB," but few probably know all that she's accomplished in her 80+ years on earth.

Here are just a few things she's done:

  • Became the second female justice ever appointed to the Supreme Court.
  • Was one of just a dozen women at Harvard Law School.
  • Graduated first in her law school class at Columbia.
  • Nursed her husband through cancer.
  • Raised two children.
  • Was a professor at Rutgers School of Law.
  • Was a volunteer lawyer for the ACLU before becoming one of its General Counsels.
  • Survived cancer (twice).
  • Co-founded the first law journal to focus exclusively on women's rights.
The list goes on.

This charming film mixes interviews with Justice Ginsburg, her family, journalists, politicians, friends and foes with archive footage from her illustrious career to tell her entire story (so far).

Despite her age, you get the sense she's just getting started and I can't think of a more inspirational role model for women to spotlight.

A simply perfect film.