'Rosie's Family Cruise' Steers Away From Deep Water

Children with two mommies or two daddies, such as the Paragian family, join the excitement of taking a trip to Barbados on HBO's
Children with two mommies or two daddies, such as the Paragian family, join the excitement of taking a trip to Barbados on HBO's "All Aboard! Rosie's Family Cruise." (By Barbara Kinney)
By Tom Shales
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 6, 2006

All aren't bored on "All Aboard! Rosie's Family Cruise," a dry documentary pulling out of dry dock tonight on HBO, and certainly many who watch won't be bored at all by it. Yet something seems amiss, almost a mess, as far as buoyant ebullience and see-worthy merriment are concerned.

It's as if the primary concern of Rosie O'Donnell, who captained the project, was presenting to the mainstream TV audience a scrubbed-up, politely tidy image of gay men and women -- a portrait meticulously devoid of the drag queens, pierced nipples and campy vamping one often sees when a local TV station rushes off to cover a gay-themed event. O'Donnell earns herself a citizenship award or a political correctness award, but the unfortunate byproduct of the consciousness-raising is that it isn't engaging, it isn't much fun, and sometimes it's punishingly platitudinous.

O'Donnell almost robs her subjects of their sexual identity in the pursuit of making them wholesome. In short, there is no gay cruising on this gay cruise.

Of course, one must remember that the emphasis here is on family -- the word, the concept, the ideal, the redefining. Many of the kids on board have two daddies, some have two mommies, one has a 350-pound former Green Bay Packer for a father, or Rosie and her current girlfriend for parents.

In the ship's La Trattoria Café, two men talk about the rigmarole they went through to adopt (with legal costs), adding one little complication of their own: Their son was born via artificial insemination, with both men serving as sperm donors.

"So technically," one explains, "we don't know which [of us] is the bio-dad." The adoptee doesn't know whom to buy a Bio-Dad's Day card for, either. One of the two male parents recalls his initial reaction to the plan: "I just thought, 'Wow,' you know?"

There are, of course, many people who would use language more colorful, and less inhibited, than "wow" in describing such new-world versions of parenting. Near the end of the documentary, when the boat docks in the Bahamas, some of the children on board get a firsthand look at the kind of hate groups who run around blaming homosexuals for virtually everything wrong with the world.

Filmmaker Shari Cookson apparently felt she needed to include some of this negative footage so that the program would not appear naive. We see a group of radical pseudo-Christians holding a rally at which they predict Armageddon and apocalypse and who knows what else -- another rise in gas prices perchance -- as the result of allegedly perverse activity such as double-daddy families.

Rhetoric and cant are even less intriguing to watch than are some of the goody-goody positive images put forth by the program and the children, young and quite old, who are trying to make a new system work -- and do so with a minimum of pain and chaos.

All Aboard! Rosie's Family Cruise airs tonight at 8 on HBO.

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