Janice Engel’s loving portrait of perhaps the most famous liberal journalist in Texas history (there must be a few others, right?) feels a bit like a pitch for a biopic. That is to say, it’s more portrait than story. It spends an awful lot of time on what feels like a YouTube deep dive to establish the character’s considerable appeal: in numerous interview clips, Ivins comes across like an ink-stained Julia Child: a big woman with an even bigger persona, rebelling against her conservative father and upper-class background, heading off to France to get a sense of the wider world, living life on her own terms, and getting famous in the process. As a Smith-educated-but-Texas-bred newswoman, she’s good enough for the New York Times, but more at home in her home state, “where you understand the sons of bitches.” We learn that she’s a gifted raconteur, a blunt-force wit, and a serious drinker. But beyond her disgust at the hypocrisy of pre-Civil Rights Movement racism and her deep disappointment with President Clinton’s embrace of welfare reform, we don’t get much of a sense of her thought and/or work. The relationship with Dad shows up at beginning and end, but feels like it should get more attention. The stuff about drink, too — when you hear about an intervention, you can’t help but wonder about what brought it on. (2019) — Matthew Lickona
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