Early on in Shari Cookson's engaging, quietly powerful documentary detailing the events aboard the Norwegian Dawn – the maiden voyage of R Family Vacations – the company founded by former talk show host Rosie O'Donnell and her wife, Kelli Carpenter, nearly every single person interviewed gushes about how free, how non-judgmental and how refreshing it is to be on vacation in such a tranquil atmosphere. You might think to yourself, "Can it possibly be that bad for gay, lesbian and bisexual families when it comes to getting away from it all?"
Unfortunately, it is – the ugly truth reveals itself near the conclusion of All Aboard! Rosie's Family Cruise. As was widely reported by the mainstream media when the R Family Vacations-chartered cruise ship docked in the Bahamas in July 2004, the 500 families aboard were met with a stinging blast of vitriolic abuse from two protesting Nassau church groups, tarnishing what is otherwise a sweet, compelling look at a range of families and stages of life – there are families contemplating civil unions, families yearning to adopt children, families vacationing in support of each other and of course, candid vignettes revealing the warmth and love binding together the O'Donnell clan.
Cookson punctuates her episodic structure with text screens detailing the various locations onboard, following an ever-expanding series of families, providing no context and just allowing for glimpses into the often complex and emotionally charged lives of these gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals. Those expected a thorough exploration of what it means to be a gay, lesbian or bisexual family in these politically charged times will be disappointed - Cookson's fly-on-the-wall doc isn't anything more than what it sets out to be: a fun, poignant look back at a journey aboard a one-of-a-kind cruise and its lasting effects upon those involved.
Presented as originally broadcast on HBO in 1.33:1 fullscreen, All Aboard! Rosie's Family Cruise looks sharp, clean and clear – no visual defects distract from Cookson's images, whether it be tearful families or breathtaking sunsets. A very solid visual representation.
A film driven by interviews, All Aboard! Rosie's Family Cruise boasts an unremarkable but clean Dolby 2.0 stereo soundtrack that conveys all dialogue and the occasional pop song ("If I Had a Boat," for instance) with clarity and free from any distortion. A Spanish Dolby 2.0 stereo soundtrack is included as well.
The supplements are regretfully thin: a photo gallery catching viewers up on what's happened with 13 families featured in the film is the lone extra.
A warm, poignant documentary jarred by a hateful episode near the film's climax, Shari Cookson's compelling All Aboard! Rosie's Family Cruise is well worth your time and helps illuminate a part of the population all too easily demonized by those who grip their Bibles just a little too tightly. Recommended.