DOCUMENTARY "All About Ann"
WHEN | WHERE Premieres Monday night at 9 on HBO
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Can a political documentary actually be fun? Yessirree, boy howdy! Just focus on Ann Richards.
The straight-talking, straight-shooting, wit-wielding one-term Texas governor -- a white-haired Democrat who beat one wealthy '90s Republican before falling to Karl Rove's first juggernaut push for George W. Bush -- makes one whale of a film subject.
"All About Ann: Governor Richards of the Lone Star State" benefits from its singular star (1933-2006). Already a grandmother, Richards was "feisty, fiery, funny and unafraid," in the words of CNN's Paul Begala. Combining what's here termed "acid wit and good-ole-gal common sense," she built a national profile even as Texas state treasurer, good-naturedly telling 1988's Democratic convention that fellow Texan George Bush (the first one, H.W.) "was born with a silver foot in his mouth." Such vintage clips lead to Bill Clinton recalling a dinner he and Richards shared with comics Robin Williams and Billy Crystal: "Ann Richards joked 'em under the table."
But there's substance here, too. Charted is Richards' then-dramatic rise from fun-loving Dallas housewife to Austin feminist politician toppling ruthless men in "knuckle/fistfight" campaigns. As state treasurer, she computerized public finances and set revenue records. As governor, she'd reform state service ethics and prison drug treatment, overseeing a sharp crime drop. Never mind the facts -- young Bush strategist Rove pounded Richards as a soft-on-crime "liberal," amid a "whisper campaign" that her diversity-in-hiring was benefiting (gasp!) lesbian supporters.
MY SAY Which makes "All About Ann" not just an engaging yarn, a culture-shift biography, and a naked look at Texas electioneering (and vested interests). The film's bounty of vintage campaign TV, plus comments from in-the-race operatives, also ushers us into 21st century politics, a la Rove: "If you say something enough, it sticks." (Swift Boat, anyone?)
Richards gets kudos for her administrative smarts and her profound public empathy. But best of all, there's that wit. Lordy, what wit -- razor-sharp, yet humane.
BOTTOM LINE Could we please have another Ann Richards?