Raise Hell: The Life & Times of Molly Ivins, directed by Janice Engel, is a new documentary telling the story of the eponymous female trailblazer. A fascinating portrait of a groundbreaking figure in a dying medium, this film manages to be both entertaining and important, largely thanks to Ivins’s larger-than-life persona.
As a liberal journalist, and a female one to boot, in a highly conservative state, Ivins was a tremendously important figure in her day. Although she is the very definition of an unsung heroine, this documentary should be very effective in making her name well-known. In an era of declining journalistic integrity and a decrease in the relevance of print media, it is important for us to remember the good that can come about from this medium.
Obviously, there is a very strong political edge to the movie. Ivins was very active in taking on the status quo, which is what made her such a controversial figure. Although the film doesn’t quite pack the punch that it could, it does a decent enough job of highlighting some of the issues to which she devoted her effort.
That said, the film does emphasize the importance of the fact that she was a woman doing these things at that time in that place. More than a few segments of the movie address the sacrifices that Ivins made in her life, particularly not being able to become a mother, in order to devote herself fully to her work. These parts feel the most personal, and as such, are also the most effective.
There is also quite a lot of humor to be found in the film, mostly because Ivins had a great sense of humor, and her personality comes across through the interviews and recordings of her speeches. Her political statements are particularly humorous, as she liked to poke fun at and even sometimes outright ridicule her targets in a way that is entertaining to watch.
Thanks to both the humor and the fact that Ivins is such a compelling subject, this movie is sure to be an entertaining watch for most audiences. Texans will likely enjoy the film most, as they are most likely to be familiar with Ivins and her work before seeing the movie, but even if you are unfamiliar with who she is, the film will make you love her in a brisk hour and thirty minutes.
On a technical level, the movie’s execution is quite effective. Since Ivins unfortunately passed away in 2007, the film has to rely predominantly on pre-existing archive footage and interviews to tell her story. Still, despite these challenges, Engel is able to make a movie that feels thoroughly personal. Unlike most documentaries that feature a deceased subject, Raise Hell doesn’t feel like it gets too caught up in paying tribute to its central figure. Instead, we get an earnest portrait of who she was and see her impact on the world in a more natural way.
Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins is a very enjoyable and well-made documentary. Even if you don’t know a thing about the eponymous Texan journalist, you will still be charmed by her personality and accomplishments.
Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins opens in theaters on August 30.