Mary Murphy’s Hey Boo often feels more like a celebrity book-club session than a documentary: It centers on a parade of talking-head interviewees (Oprah Winfrey, Tom Brokaw, Rosanne Cash, Wally Lamb, Anna Quindlen, James McBride, Rick Bragg, James Patterson, Scott Turow, Richard Russo, and more) who read from Lee’s 1960 novel To Kill A Mockingbird, explain their reactions to it, analyze the characters, and praise it to the heavens, with enthusiasm and personal investment, but no great insight. One segment observes children in classrooms studiously describing their favorite Mockingbird scenes, and the rest of the film feels like more of the same, writ large.
Hey Boo has a few surprises on offer in its broad overview of Mockingbird and Lee’s life, mostly from Lee’s rusty-voiced 99-year-old sister Alice, who offers frank information about Lee’s friendship and break with Truman Capote, her troubles with fame, her decision to stop granting interviews 45 years ago, and her feelings that there was no point in publishing another book after Mockingbird, since she had nowhere to go but down. Murphy—a longtime CBS producer and director of Cry For Help—operates in tasteful Ken Burns mode, with languorous pans and zooms across her few pictures of Lee, and plenty of contextualizing 1960s news footage and scenes from the 1962 Mockingbird film adaptation, starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch and Mary Badham as Scout. Badham also shows up for interviews, as do various people who shared Lee’s Monroeville, Alabama hometown, and can talk knowledgably about how it inspired some of the novel’s characters and settings.
But while there are a few modest pleasures in the scattered information and many-mirrors look at Lee’s enduring classic, Hey Boo is largely basic, bare-bones information, dressed up with familiar names, familiar images, and unchallenging, unnuanced compliments. The filmmaking is prosaic, the pacing sleepy. It’s a solid but unremarkable experience, perfect for insomniacs watching the History Channel late at night, but not nearly as satisfying as simply re-reading Lee’s book.