Roseanne for President!
by Matt Weiner
You can’t argue that Roseanne Barr has lost her timing. As we enter what political scientists call the “Holy mother of God there isn’t enough whiskey in the world” phase of the election season, Roseanne for President! looks back at the comedian’s 2012 attempt to run for president as the Green Party nominee.
Spoiler alert: Roseanne Barr did not win the 2012 presidential election. What’s frustrating though is how Barr — and the film, directed by Eric Weinrib — never really settle on what the point of it all was. She claims it’s a serious run at the presidency, which quickly turns into a half-hearted battle for the Green Party nomination, which finally becomes a successful attempt to qualify as the nominee of yet another third party. In three states. Yes, three. (The surest sign that even Barr gave up on everything has to be when she freely admits to voting for Barack Obama due to convoluted write-in rules.)
And yet all of this could have still been fertile material for a comedian as gifted as Barr. Instead, we see her literally phoning in her efforts throughout the race: Barr might be the first presidential nominee to campaign almost entirely via Skype. Be prepared for lots of awkward video conferences from a computer in her Hawaii home, peppered with anti-capitalism rants that sound genuine but disjointed.
While short on introspection, the film allows some moments of inspiration. It’s hard not to want to reach out and hug Farheen Hakeem, Barr’s campaign manager keeping things running in the Mainland. Hakeem is comically undaunted by the challenges of running a third party campaign with no staff and a candidate who doesn’t campaign in person.
Hakeem is also Exhibit A for anyone trying to argue that Barr’s run had merit. The documentary constantly undercuts its own seriousness, though, by landing way more in Christopher Guest territory than Michael Moore. (This is especially odd because director Weinrib has worked on multiple Moore films, but here deploys none of Moore’s visual diversions that could have helped add some context around the nomination process instead of more Skype rants.)
The real tragedy is that talking heads like Sandra Bernhard, Rosie O’Donnell and Tom Smothers aren’t being used for a documentary about Roseanne herself. Barr’s brother, Ben-David, also talks movingly about the family’s outsider upbringing as Jews in Salt Lake City. These all-too-brief scenes show how Barr’s subversive and genuinely radical comedy career deserves a better showcase than this.