All About Ann: Governor Richards of the Lone Star State is comprehensive biographic documentary of the fiery, hilarious Texas grandma-turned-governor Ann Richards, best known to me from an Alamo Drafthouse PSA played frequently at SXSW (she allegedly frequented the Alamo later in life). Admittedly I knew very little of her life apart from some the major bullet points; she was defeated by George W. Bush, was only the second women governor of Texas, the last democrat to hold a major state office and her daughter, Cecile Richard, heads Planned Parenthood.

This is an essential documentary that thoroughly explains, with the aid of new commentary, Richard’s rise to power and her progress, as well as her weakness. You can call her a lot of things but you certainly cannot accuse of her not being a straight-shooter. A cynic could rightfully point out the arrival of the documentary now, airing on HBO after a premiere at Tribeca, is curious. Another leading democrat, Wendy Davis, in locked in a tight race for governor down in the Lone Star State, herself a candidate with some vulnerability.

Richards, if anything was a hard worker whose mantra upon taking office was that the state was going to serve its people. Once George W. Bush rose to power (aided of course with some special interest money) the mantra shifted to limiting government services and “overreach,” no more hand outs. The sad irony is Richards, at least explained in this documentary, laid the groundwork for a more efficient government, including automating the state treasury during her tenure heading that organization.

Co-directed by Keith Patterson and Phillip Schopper, the story is told largely in archival footage, opening at the delivering of a speech at a democratic primary that had a whole conventional hall doubled over in laughter. The filmmakers also move the story forward with talking heads from reporters on the ground, allies, and heavy hitters like Dan Rather, Bill Clinton, Tom Brokaw, and Nancy Pelosi, who offer their first hand experiences with Richards.

Well-structured, each segment of the story unpacks a different part of Richard’s life from her modest upbringing in rural Texas to her marriage to David Richards. They move from Houston to that great liberal central Texas city Austin, where they play their role in keeping that city weird. This later becomes a thorn in her side as allegations about the “Austin lifestyle” come back to haunt her when she admits she is a recovering alcoholic, projecting honesty along with her down home Texas, no-nonsense brand.

Where the story becomes perhaps most interesting in its middle section as Richards is locked in a close, heated race with Clayton Williams, a well-financed sexiest jerk who as it turns out in 1986 didn’t pay any taxes. Hitting him with this truth, Williams loses the all-important “Bubba Vote” allowing Richards to win. Her time as governor was progressive, including compassionate reforms for restructuring the corrections system around recovery and thus she spent less in the process.

A documentary like this is a funny thing; surely, you could read a biography of Richards, but seeing the history in archival footage is all the more entertaining. Open and honest, much like Richards, All About Ann may not quite deliver one-hundred percent on its title, but it’s certainly an engaging biography.

All About Ann premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and is now playing on HBO.

Grade: B

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