In A Family Is a Family Is a Family, kids offer touching, profound and often funny insights about what being a family means to them. Among those featured are: children with two fathers or two mothers; a girl whose mother and father adopted her in China; three brothers who live with their mother and grandmother; a pair of mothers who are getting married to make one big family; and families with adopted kids and children born through in-vitro fertilization.
Lianne and Katia think a family is a mommy and a daddy. Franklin says a family is “a bunch of people that live together for their life.” Kennan and Adam are nearly stumped trying to name all the possible combinations of parents and kids. Becky sums it up best, saying, “It doesn’t matter if you have one parent. It doesn’t matter if you have two moms. It doesn’t matter if you have two dads. Just stick with it. A family is a family.”
In the special, Rosie O’Donnell talks with her daughter Vivienne Rose about how their family – which includes sister Chelsea, brothers Parker and Blake and parents Rosie and Kelli – came about. Following her recent separation from Kelli, O’Donnell reaffirms the importance of family in a talk with Vivienne Rose, saying, “Even though Mommy Kelli and I aren’t living in the same house anymore, we’re still a family. Family is forever. And family is love.”
Interspersed with these portraits are musical performances and animated interludes, including: reggae star Ziggy Marley, his mother Rita Marley and sister Cedella Marley performing “I Love You Too”; four-year-old Najorae and her father singing their original song “Love Is the Thing;” 11-year-old Martin and his seven brothers and sisters performing “CariÃ±o (My Love),” nine-year-old Joey singing “Raised on Love,” a song he wrote with his mom and dad; and folk musician Elizabeth Mitchell performing “Blue Clouds” with husband Daniel Littleton and seven-year-old daughter Storey.
O’Donnell’s tongue-in-cheek performance of “My Science Project” tells the animated story of a young girl whose class project describes the scientific way she came to be. And Frank Sinatra’s rendition of “Too Marvelous for Words” is accompanied by an animated sequence of a sperm in top hat serenading a glamorous egg.
The soundtrack of A Family Is a Family Is a Family also includes original songs written for the special, among them: “And Mom and Kid,” by They Might Be Giants, “My Family,” by Sweet Honey in the Rock and “A New Generation (Conner’s Theme),” by Charles Strouse. In addition to “Too Marvelous for Words,” classic recordings featured are “Baby Mine,” sung by Bonnie Raitt and Was (Not Was) and “A Bushel and a Peck,” performed by Doris Day.
A Family Is a Family Is a Family is directed and produced by Amy Schatz, whose credits include such award-winning HBO family productions as the “Classical Baby” series and the special “Goodnight Moon & Other Sleepytime Tales.” Some of the recordings are brought to animated life by Emmy(r)-winning animator Maciek Albrecht, whose previous HBO credits include the “Classical Baby” series and numerous other productions.
A Family Is a Family Is a Family: A Rosie O’Donnell Celebration is executive produced by Rosie O’Donnell and Sheila Nevins for HBO Documentary Films; directed and produced by Amy Schatz; produced by Beth Aala and Sabina Barach; edited by Tom Patterson; directors of photography, Alex Rappoport and Joel Shapiro; animation by Maciek Albrecht; music supervisor, Linda Cohen; production executive, Susan Benaroya; supervising producer, Jacqueline Glover. (sito web)
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. (Brian Lowry, Variety)