It may not be the most trenchant documentary, but "Ethel," Rory Kennedy's otherwise superb tribute to her mother and, in large part, her father, Robert F. Kennedy, is a moving, highly enjoyable, thoroughly absorbing portrait.
Booked for a quick theatrical run before its upcoming HBO premiere, the film chronicles the life of Ethel Skakel Kennedy from her seemingly charmed childhood as the puckish daughter of a successful Chicago businessman to her 1950 marriage to RFK and her role, following her husband's 1968 assassination, as a devoted, competitive, at times free-spirited matriarch and torchbearer for RFK's famed social consciousness.
It's a great American story filled with pivotal 1950s and '60s-era history and a raft of iconic political figures.
Rory Kennedy, an Emmy Award-winning documentary producer-director ("Ghosts of Abu Ghraib") and the youngest of Ethel and Robert's 11 children (she was born six months after her father's death), sits down for a rare, warmly compelling interview with her 83-year-old mom as well as evocative chats with seven of the filmmaker's siblings: Kathleen, Joe, Bobby, Courtney, Kerry, Chris and Max.
They're all deftly combined with a treasure trove of home movie clips, personal photographs and stirring archival footage.
Although decidedly warts-free, "Ethel" proves a timely reminder of the legacy of perhaps America's most captivating political family as well as what, under different circumstances, might have been.