Tribeca Film Review: ‘Roseanne for President!’

Eric Weinrib's documentary about Roseanne Barr's short-lived 2012 presidential bid is half campaign diary and half career appreciation.

Roseanne Barr, John Argent, Farheen Hakeem, Cynthia McKinney, Ben-David Barr, Geraldine Barr, Helen Barr, Rosie O'Donnell, Sandra Bernhard, Tom Smothers, Jill Stein, Cindy Sheehan, Michael Moore, Jennifer Pentland.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3791268/

Commentators who wondered if Roseanne Barr’s 2012 presidential candidacy was a joke may still have their doubts after “Roseanne for President!” This authorized portrait doesn’t do much to suggest that the groundbreaking comedienne was a tireless contender for the Oval Office, although Barr does come across as a likable underdog who’s sincere in her desire to challenge big money and political entrenchment. A chronicle with some distance — perhaps one without Barr as executive producer — might have amounted to a deep-dish examination of what it takes to launch a third-party presidential candidacy.

As is, this puff piece of a documentary, directed by Michael Moore collaborator Eric Weinrib, is half campaign diary and half career appreciation — an irreverent, personal look behind the curtain a la “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work.” It will likely stoke curiosity among those who followed (or weren’t aware of) Barr’s candidacy, but its flippant approach makes it more of a specialty item for fans than a heavyweight issue doc.

According to materials provided, Barr initiated the film and selected Weinrib to document her quest, which began with a bid for the Green Party nomination. Her supporters included Cynthia McKinney, the Greens’ candidate in 2008, who notes the benefit that Barr’s following might bring to the party. Barr’s platform seems to be a mix of progressive advocacy (support for single-payer universal healthcare) and possibly sarcastic bomb throwing (she tamps down her talk of giving the guillotine to immoral bankers). Both in forums and in private, much of what she says sounds more like standup material than stump speeches. At one point, extolling the virtues of marijuana, she tells us that the president ought to keep a joint by the nuclear button.

We often see her at home in Hawaii, with her boyfriend, John Argent. She Skypes in for state-by-state Green Party conventions  — flying, she says, is “not the Green way” — although the eventual nominee, Jill Stein, tends to be there in person. The clear frontrunner, Stein is portrayed, in this context, as a high-handed embodiment of the establishment. Still, Barr maintains a persistent optimism: In one of the funnier bits, subtitles fact-check her as she rattles off states she regards as success stories.

The film traces the campaign’s roots to Barr’s activism on television, where “Roseanne” is still regarded as having broken ground in its portrayal of working families and gay characters. Rosie O’Donnell, Tom Smothers and Sandra Bernhard hold her up as an essential comic voice, while Barr’s family members provide earnest biographical testimonials, including remembrances of how she changed after being hit by a car and suffering head trauma. These testimonials are amply supplemented with clips from the show and old comedy acts. Barr’s off-key rendition of the National Anthem at a ballgame in 1990 — ridiculed by, among others, then-President George H.W. Bush — is the moment the movie seems to choose as her career low point.

Somewhat more novel and compelling is the time we spend with Barr’s Minnesota-based campaign manager, Farheen Hakeem, who chats on the phone while driving through blinding snow and at times seems to be singlehandedly running the campaign, even assembling a parade trailer on her own. Her ground-level activism could easily be the subject of a separate, less self-promoting film.

Barr ultimately ran on the Peace and Freedom ticket in California, Colorado and Florida. In one of the most surprising scenes, she and Argent read up on the returns at home, as if nothing out of the ordinary is happening; the scene is in keeping with the movie’s coyness about whether the candidacy is genuine or just a lark. “Let’s get some pizza and buy some wine,” Argent concludes.

Tech credits, mirroring the campaign apparatus, are rudimentary.

Popular on Variety

Tribeca Film Review: 'Roseanne for President!'

Reviewed at Tribeca Screening Room, New York, April 10, 2015. (In Tribeca Film Festival — Spotlight.) Running time: 97 MIN.

Production: (Documentary) A Full Moon & High Tide production. Produced by Eric Weinrib, James Moore. Executive producer, Roseanne Barr. Co-executive producers, Nick McKinney, Meghan O’Hara, William O. Perkins III.

Crew: Directed by Eric Weinrib. Camera (color, HD), Jayme Roy; editors, Tyler H. Walk, Melanie Vi Levy; music supervisor, Jesse Lauter; sound, Alexander Burstein, Francisco La Torre; re-recording mixer, Christopher Koch; associate producers, Ron Busloff, Brian Riemer, Rukshinda Rizvi.

With: Roseanne Barr, John Argent, Farheen Hakeem, Cynthia McKinney, Ben-David Barr, Geraldine Barr, Helen Barr, Rosie O'Donnell, Sandra Bernhard, Tom Smothers, Jill Stein, Cindy Sheehan, Michael Moore, Jennifer Pentland.

More Film

  • on day 3 of the London

    Barbara Broccoli, Richard Curtis Team With Passion Pictures, HTYT Films on Paralympics Documentary

    Oscar-Winning British production company Passion Pictures is teaming up with James Bond producer Barbara Broccoli and filmmaker Richard Curtis on a new feature documentary about the Paralympic Games. The project, currently titled “Harder Than You Think” brings together Passion’s John Battsek with producer Greg Nugent of HTYT Films, with Broccoli and Curtis both serving as [...]

  • Tribeca Film Insitute's PitchNY Program Now

    Tribeca Film Institute's Fourth Annual PitchNY Program Kicks Off (EXCLUSIVE)

    College students and recent alumni in New York can apply to Tribeca Film Institute’s 4th annual PitchNY program, an effort to help young, diverse directors, producers and writers fine-tune their pitching skills, as well as to connect them with entertainment industry professionals who will serve as mentors. On Thursday, Tribeca Film Institute announced that applications [...]

  • La-camarista

    ‘The Chambermaid’ Cleans Up in the U.S.

    SANTIAGO, Chile — Call it the “Roma” effect but Mexican newcomer Lila Aviles’ engaging portrait of a hotel servant, “The Chambermaid” (“La Camarista”) has found outstanding reception in the U.S. and in multiple territories, giving hope to other arthouse films from Latin America and elsewhere that seek distribution in “fortress America.” “‘Roma’ was a beautiful, brawny and [...]

  • Beograd 20.03.2012 Milutin Petrovic, reditelj, scenarista,

    Lost Script by ABC Studios Editor Turned Into Movie and Series 'Bad Blood'

    An ambitious new Serbian feature film and 10-part television series set in the Ottoman Empire of the 19th century has emerged from a long lost script by a former editor at ABC Studios in New York City. Belgrade-based This and That Productions is producing “Bad Blood,” based on the works of renowned Serbian writer Borisav [...]

  • Gael Garcia Bernal on the Power,

    Gael Garcia Bernal on the Power, Responsibility of Cinema to ‘Provoke’

    Gael García Bernal said acting for the likes of Oscar winners Alejandro González Iñárritu and Alfonso Cuarón helped groom him for the director’s chair and praised cinema as “the only medium” that allows artists to “explore the gray areas” in unparalleled ways. “The world is so full of certainties now, and cinema is the one that [...]

  • Gareth Jones

    Samuel Goldwyn Films Takes North American Rights to Berlin Competition Title 'Mr Jones'

    Samuel Goldwyn Films has taken North American rights on Agnieska Holland’s “Mr. Jones,” it announced Thursday. The period thriller debuted in competition at the Berlin Film Festival in February. Set on the eve of the Second World War, “Mr. Jones” stars James Norton as the eponymous character, an ambitious young journalist who travels to Moscow [...]

  • Live Action Mulan

    China Uses Disney's 'Mulan' to Attack Hong Kong Protests

    Although Twitter and Facebook have taken steps to stop what they say is a Chinese state-backed misinformation campaign about the anti-government protests in Hong Kong, similar content from suspicious accounts continues to proliferate widely, some of it co-opting Disney‘s new “Mulan“ to try to discredit the demonstrators. At the same time, China‘s government-controlled media are [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content