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Roseanne for President! - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
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Roseanne for President!
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Directing: B
Writing: B+
Cinematography: B
Editing: B+



With all the talk of Jill Stein as the Green Party candidate for Preisdent in 2016, along comes Roseanne Barr to remind us that she ran against Stein for that very same nomination in 2012. And there is a clear difference between the intent of this documentary, Roseanne for President!, and how it comes across: as a serious challenge to the two-party system versus a group of people competing with each other to waste the greatest amount of time and energy with their delusions.

To be sure, the two-party system needs to be challenged. Personally, I fall in the camp of people who think it makes more sense to build up a third (or fourth or fifth) party from the ground up, at a grassroots, local level. This is what a Green Party presidential candidate never seems to understand: that legwork is long from finished, which is why they never have a prayer of winning the presidency. And still, just like a Republican or a Democrat who is clearly going to lose, supporters at a Jill Stein rally will still shout their introductions -- with conviction -- "the next President of the United States, Jill Stein!" As if.

And it is clear that Jill Stein is a far more qualified candidate even than Roseanne Barr, who, in this movie, echoes a whole lot of the angry sentiments of many of today's Bernie Sanders supporters. (I suppose I should say that the other way around, since this movie tracks the 2012 election: Bernie supporters echo a lot of what Roseanne said at the time.) Roseanne seems to be convinced that what makes her qualified to lead the country is how her late eighties / early nineties TV show, Roseanne, was groundbreaking in so many ways. She did more to change the narrative in our culture than any of these other candidates did, she says. And really, she's right about that. I'm not sure how that alone makes her qualified to be the president.

Certainly there's an element of entertainment to it all. This is a woman who thrives on being crass, and makes no effort to tone that down in her campaigning. At one point she turns to the camera and says, "I've got more intelligence in my shit than these people have in their whole families." She calls Jill Stein a fucking bitch.

And she's clearly having fun. The trouble is that, curiously, she's also sincere. She clearly believes in these issues and has passion for speaking for everyday working Americans. She comes across as far more like a liberal version of Donald Trump than Bernie Sanders, because Sanders has a long established history as a politician. Roseanne does not. Imagine if it were Donald Trump vs. Roseanne today. That would really be the only way the Democrats could offer someone on their side at Trump's same level of preposterousness. Given that Trump is the Republican nominee, which once seemed like a joke at best, it's easier to imagine now.

But, Roseanne never sought the nomination of one of the two major parties. Perhaps she should have. But that was part of her point: to challenge the two-party system. So, she first went head to heat against Jill Stein for the Green Party nomination, which she lost; she then moved on to vie for the nomination in the Peace and Freedom Party, which she won. And when did anyone ever even hear of the Peace and Freedom Party, except when a superstar comedian secured their nomination?

It's hard to gauge how seriously Roseanne really takes her role as a campaigner. She hires a Muslim woman as her campaign manager, who does most of her traveling for her. When she can, Roseanne connects to rallies and debates around the country from Hawaii via Skype. She presents this as an asset as a candidate: she's the one candidate who's actually "walking the walk" by being "green," and not flying all over the place. Except isn't that what her campaign manager, Farheen, is doing? And what serious candidate, of any party, would deliberately avoid all these events? When Roseanne does finally start going to events regularly, she tells people she doesn't shake hands, and instead touches their shoulders or does fist bumps. I suppose her brashness remains one of her selling points for a lot of supporters regardless.

She still goes on talk shows, though, and cracks jokes. She tells David Letterman that Barack Obama, who did not support legalization of marijuana at the time, that he can "take my joint from my cold dead hands!" She announced her candidacy on The Tonight Show, smiling broadly as confetti fell to the stage. She showed up at concert events to mention her candidacy, offering her telltale cackle in the middle of otherwise serious talking points, giving the impression that this really is an elaborate joke that she is indeed in on. But then we see footage of her sharing her platform via Skype to a debate, and she does it so passionately she gets tears in her eyes.

Roseanne is on record as having a history of mental illness, which never really gets discussed her. Is that relevant? If so, to what degree? If nothing else, whether or not she's in on the joke, she still comes across as having a level of delusion not conducive to the Presidency. The same could be said of Jill Stein, mind you. If you listen to Roseanne talk long enough in interviews she can sound a little nuts. But here, director Eric Weinrib presents her as a woman who at least has the capacity for real intelligence and critical thinking. It's not even as big of a train wreck as you might expect -- Rosenne still serves a purpose here, something vital in this country: someone using the privilege of her wide-reaching voice to challenge the dark side of the status quo. Exactly which elements are really on the dark side remains up for debate, but these kinds of challenges are still needed.

Roseanne declares herself someone who "lives in reality," and no, sorry, she does not. She definitely has an understanding of the mind of the blue collar American, but she has also spent decades with the kind of fame and notoriety that inevitably skews a person's thinking. Did she ever really think she could be President? This film makes it hard to gauge. Clearly she was never going to be. But, imperfect and uneven -- and often genuinely funny -- as she is, she served a purpose.

Roseanne Barr takes an uneven approach to being taken as a serious presidential candidate in ROSEANNE FOR PRESIDENT.


Overall: B
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