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All Aboard! Rosie’s Family Cruise (documentary)

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Remember Rosie O’Donnell? She was the Queen of Nice. She had that daytime talk show where she ruled the roost as a funny, gracious, enthusiastic hostess, and all America just loved her. And then, at some point, she became strident and loud, an activist too serious about her causes to be fun anymore. Now she’s shrill and militant and instead of smiling when her name is brought up, people roll their eyes.

So the thought of spending a week on a cruise ship with her doesn’t appeal to me, and “All Aboard! Rosie’s Family Cruise” demonstrates why. This travelogue of O’Donnell’s 2004 cruise for gay and lesbian families is so intent on getting its message across — GAY PEOPLE CAN BE GOOD PARENTS, TOO!!!!! — that it forgets to, I don’t know, tell a story or have a good time. The cruise might have been enjoyable for the people on it, but the movie sure sucks the life out of it.

Rosie and her partner, Kelli, wanted to sponsor a vacation for gay families — not just gay couples, for whom there are already cruises (as depicted in the horror film “Boat Trip”), but couples and their children, too. Gay parents don’t often have a place to socialize or to be free and unjudged, the O’Donnells figured. So the cruise was born.

Rosie and Kelli and their four children were there, as were 1,500 other people. The film, directed by Shari Cookson, conveys that it was a typical cruise: cheesy entertainment, lots of food, shuffleboard on the deck, the whole nine yards. But we see what made it different, too, with seminars like “Being a Dad in a Mom’s World” and one on the basics of adoption.

Cookson follows everyone around, but there are no real “stories” to grab onto. We’re left instead with vignettes: This couple wants to have a baby; that couple has a wedding at sea; those gay men are worried about their daughter going off to college next year. Any one of those could make an interesting documentary on its own, but they all get the short shrift in this film, which flits from one subject to the next as if trying to cover all 1,500 guests before the week is over.

Shari Cookson, I’ll tell you what I told Stewart Copeland when he revealed his home movies of the Police: Just because you have filmed an event doesn’t mean you have made a movie. This might as well be surveillance footage from the cruise, for all the structure it’s been given.

Rosie and her family are featured in the film, but the focus is not on them. Kelli is remarkably camera-shy, and when Rosie’s on, she’s mostly in activist mode, not comedian mode.

Some drama arises when the ship docks in Nassau in the Bahamas, where two local churches have organized an angry protest against gay marriage and gay parenting. To underscore the tension, Cookson includes a shot of a stormy sky just as the boat docks. Thanks, Shar.

We don’t spend much time in Nassau, though; the movie has other things on its agenda. The point of the cruise was to give gay families some respite from a world that is often against them, so why include a lot of details on an ugly event that ran counter to that? Sure, discussion of the Nassau protests would have made the film more interesting — most movies have some kind of conflict, after all — but I get the feeling this movie wasn’t made for us. I think it was made for the people on the cruise, who want a video souvenir of their vacation. It’s the equivalent of those pictures you buy at the end of Splash Mountain to show your friends when you get home from Disneyland. Your friends can tell YOU had a good time, but the pictures don’t do much for them.

C- (1 hr., 31 min.; PG, mild thematic material.)

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