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Remarkable performances in a film that sticks close to the story
First, a little history to put things into context. By the time this movie aired on Halloween night 1994, America was completely sick of hearing about the Arnolds. Earlier that year, Roseanne joked that she, Tom, and their assistant Kim Silva were a thruple, but the situation changed when she discovered Tom and Kim had actually slept together. A tabloid frenzy ensued and dominated headlines as the Arnolds separated, with Tom being treated as an ousted Yoko Ono.
At the same time, there were a whole string of unauthorized TV movie docudramas in the works (Madonna, Liz Taylor, Nancy Kerrigan, etc.), so Fox and NBC each scrambled to to get a story about the power-couple's breakup on the air. Fox beat NBC by 3 weeks with their "Roseanne: An Unauthorized Biography," a reprehensibly inaccurate telefilm starring an utterly miscast Denny Dillon. Critics were uniformly disparaging, but no one showed more disdain for the movie than Roseanne herself. Probably driven by spite, Rosey quickly announced plans to host NBC's upcoming film and provide commentary, but she changed her mind and backed out ten days before the premiere. It's too bad that it didn't happen because it would've been fascinating and given this now-obscure movie a well-deserved boost.
Patrika Darbo and Stephen Lee had each guest-starred on "Roseanne" (Darbo was particularly memorable as a waitress whom Rosey had perceived as a doppleganger), and this might explain why their performances were so good -- as a matter of fact, Lee deserved of an Emmy for his thoroughly uncanny portrayal of Tom. Probably in an attempt to avoid a lawsuit, the Fox movie had played fast and loose with the facts, but the NBC film stuck relatively close to the true story... so much so that it almost feels like a love letter.
The popular sitcom is viewed peripherally, taking a backseat to the saga of the Arnolds, from their affair through their rocky marriage to their ultimate divorce. Roseanne is depicted as the brash and ballsy broad that she is, but we're also shown a woman who is struggling with the demands of fame, family, and the man-child who rocked her world off its foundation. Tom isn't portrayed as a villain, but rather as a drug-addicted sadsack who had fallen in love with TV's most popular and outspoken new star. Public perception was NOT on Tom's side at the time, but the writing and Lee's nuanced performance managed to make him seem sympathetic.
The movie does have some issues, most notably in how Roseanne is portrayed as a victim. While she was (and continues to be) one in many respects, we don't see much of the humor that she continuously uses as a coping mechanism. As such, she comes off looking sort of pathetic in spots. Now, that's not to say that there's no comedy, but strangely, it's Tom who instigates many of the film's moments of levity, dealing with Roseanne's tantrumatic kids, indulging in overblown shopping sprees with his bride-to-be and partaking in on-set shenanigans.
Another problem is the treatment of... well, most everyone else in the story. Roseanne's sister Geraldine has such a slight role that it's not especially clear who she is, John Goodman and Laurie Metcalfe seem almost sinister, and Rosey's kids are totally one-dimensional.
The script isn't perfect, a few details were altered, and the affair that ended their marriage was so recent and high-profile that they opted to gloss over it, but the performances are remarkable and if you're interested in the story of Roseanne Barr and Tom Arnold, this is undeniably the best movie available.
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