Although it’s clear what Rosie O’Donnell is hoping to accomplish with this family special, the mouthful of a title — “A Family Is a Family Is a Family: A Rosie O’Donnell Celebration” — isn’t the only thing that’s unwieldy about it. Featuring a mix of musical performances and “Kids Say the Darndest Things”-type interviews, the result is cloying, saccharine, and perhaps foremost, will merely preach to the choir. Yes, there are all kinds of families, but the laudable battle for hearts and minds over gay marriage won’t be won with ham-fisted exercises such as this.
Clearly pitched heavily toward kids and directed by Amy Schatz (“Classical Baby”), O’Donnell’s “Celebration” is a puzzling mix of interviews, musical numbers and animation — including one where a top-hat-wearing sperm meets a heavily made-up egg. Hey, who hasn’t had that dream?
O’Donnell herself appears about halfway through, explaining the importance of family to one of her own kids, while referencing her split from partner Kelli and incorporating homemovies of the whole brood. “Family is forever,” she says. “And family is love.”
There are touching moments, to be sure, from some of the kids’ amusing observations to the marriage of a lesbian couple who already have children. For adults, though, most of this has a sappy quality that borders on teeth gnashing.
Ultimately, the underlying point — that children of gay, divorced, mixed race or any other kind of parents can be just as adorable and well adjusted as anybody else — won’t come as news to those likely to watch. The problem is that those who reject this simple notion probably won’t want their kids tuning in, inasmuch as O’Donnell’s progressive politics — which she articulated to great effect during her time on “The View” — have made the conveyer of the doc’s simple message a polarizing figure to conservatives.
Granted, there’s a fine line between educational and preachy, and despite its good intentions this stumbles into the latter category. For HBO’s normally reliable documentary unit, it’s an apparent case of being dazzled by star power, having previously collaborated with O’Donnell on her more interesting 2006 doc “All Aboard! Rosie’s Family Cruise.”
A Family Is a Family” certainly has the tone of a celebration. Judged strictly as a TV special, though, there’s not much here to celebrate.