Overview: Comedian Roseanne Barr campaigns to win the 2012 United States Presidential election. IFC Films; 2015; Not Rated; 96 minutes.
What’s Right?: It’s hardly a spoiler to point out that Roseanne Barr did not win the win the office of the U.S. President in 2012. And it’s no surprise. Not just because we are currently closing down on the second term of that election’s actual victor (President Barack Obama, of course), but also because, as Roseanne for President! documents, the comedian and TV star’s campaign was never really built for victory. Barr’s approach to being elected was haphazard at its best and somewhat pitiful at its worst. Director Eric Weinrib’s film, while an enlightening personal portrait, observes a half-baked political philosophy driven much more by general frustration and angry empathy than information.
Beyond being a proponent of legalizing marijuana and an opponent of war, Barr’s platform in Roseanne for President! (most typically delivered by Skype calls into major events because the actress hates dealing with and touching people) was mostly just crass generalities and generic platitudes laced with vulgarities. While this sort of common frustration can not be discounted from influencing policy, it is not anything substantial enough to inform and build policy. When Barr hits an obstacle or opponent, she does so with a predictable lack of grace, exhibiting a lack of statesmanship potential. Anyone watching the documentary for an easy, informative, or agreeable editorial on the state of current political affairs will be frustrated by Weinrib’s film, as Barr’s viewpoints end up being anything but.
What’s Left?: But Weinrib’s smartest and most useful move as a filmmaker in Roseanne for President! lies in his placement and construction of Roseanne’s biographical details. Weinrib knows exactly where to insert each flashback chapter– her early work as a pioneer female standup, her contributions to class discourse in her self-titled sitcom about a blue-collar family, her push to televise a lesbian kiss in spite of conservative studio backlash, and her infamous performance of the Star Spangled Banner at a Padres game in 1990, in which Roseanne ended a shrill, shrieking rendition by grabbing her crotch and spitting on the ground.
These events are not presented chronologically in Roseanne for President!, but rather functionally, so that after her election loss, when she claims herself to be more qualified to run the country than all of the other candidates (namely, Obama, Mitt Romney, Gary Johnson, and Barr’s former Green Party opponent Jill Stein) because of her history of progressive influence and rebellion against establishment, we can recognize that such a claim is absolutely absurd but not entirely wrong. Barr stands for and has always stood for marginalized segments of the population, those folks who must hope to be best represented rather than fully represented. For these folks, a political system of two dominant parties is often exclusionary. But candidates who might be most in tune and concerned with the issues of the marginalized are largely unequipped to govern within the exclusionary system, at least at an executive level, and frequently disruptive to the chances of the major party candidate who will keep marginalized interests in the periphery.
Overall: Given the timing of the release – with everything happening with Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and the seemingly corrupt influence of the DNC on the campaign of the former in favor of the latter – Roseanne for President! is a documentary likely to enhance existing political frustrations through its biographical portraiture.
Featured Image: IFC Films