Citizen Ruth
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on December 5, 2002
I believe Citizen Ruth, which satirizes both sides of the abortion debate, is one of the best films of the 90s. Laura Dern is perfect as the angry, drug-addicted and pregnant Ruth, who becomes a pawn in the political war between professional pro-life and pro-choice activists. Declared an unfit mother by a court, Ruth is encouraged to have an abortion. She is "rescued" by a swarmy, too-nice couple who, of course, turn out to be fanatical pro-lifers. They embark upon a full-fledged campaign to change Ruth's mind, which includes making her watch a film of a fetus being destroyed. As her case gains publicity, she is soon appropriated by the other side. The pro-choicers turn out to be equally fanatical and ideology-driven. Soon Ruth is being offered money by both sides, to either have or abort her baby. What makes the film work so well is the way Ruth's deadpan street attitude sharply contrasts with everyone around her. She is utterly oblivious to the issues and movements which with they are obsessed. This perfectly illustrates the sharp separation that necessarily exists between causes and real life. Ruth is an actual, if not wholly sympathetic person; to the activists around her, she is only a symbol to be used in their campaigns. Citizen Ruth brings this point home in a way that is entertaining and very funny. It is one of those movies with an extremely unlikely plot that is so smoothly executed that it seems believable as you watch it. While the events portrayed may not be realistic, the emotions that drive them are.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
One of the most oft-repeated cliches of the pro choice movement is the line "men shouldn't have any say over abortion or a woman's body." Well, director Payne and his co-scenarist Jim Taylor have a LOT to say about abortion, women's bodies and the issues of individuals versus groupthink.
I loved this movie! Laura Dern is genuinely funny and quirky as the slow-witted Ruth Stoops, who finds herself at storm center as a judge convicts her of criminal negligence to her unborn fetus. However, out of court, he advises her to "take care of this problem," sotto voce telling her to get an abortion. Ruth doesn't really care; she just wants to find some Krylon or airplane glue to inhale.
Finding herself in jail, some Christian pro-lifers take her under their wing. Suddenly, she is no longer a rational actor whose free will determines the birth of her baby, but a pawn in a PR war between pro-life and pro-choice zealots. It is as if Ruth doesn't even exist as an individual, and is only important to these fanatics as a poster child for their respective causes.
What I most love about the characterisations of the activists is how Payne shows how removed they are from reality. The pro-lifers (Mary Kay Place and that guy from That 70s Show) are Christian evangelicals who won't even have a TV in their house, hold independent church services at their house and sing horrifyingly bad hymns like "Yes Jesus Loves Me, The Bible Tells Me So" (this hokum is probably the main reason people become atheists; whatever happened to church hymns by Bach or Cesar Franck?) Their clothes are right out of the Monkey Wards 1977 catalogue and they speak in that anti-intellectual sing-song style.
The pro-choicers are just as big a scream. Swoosie Kurtz plays a "double agent" who spends months undercover as a tacky Christian hick in order to kidnap one of the women whose pregnancy the pro-lifers intend to bring to term. Once she has Ruth at her house, the wig comes off and she becomes her real self, a somewhat butch lesbian with a bookish feminist lesbian lover. I love the scene when they sing a moon hymn to Gaia.
Eventually, this boils over into a national media circus, and we get a couple of campy cameos from Burt Reynolds as President of the Baby Savers and my own Hitchcock goddess, Tippi Hedren as the President of Pro-Choice.
Of course, Payne's message is the REAL pro-choice message, that the rights of individuals are what should be protected, not the groupthink of movement activists, whose lives would be empty without having a cause to blindly follow. This movie shows the ultimate disdain and disrespect such groups have for rational, individual choice and common sense. Payne's moral center of the movie is a Vietnam vet and biker who -- though a fervent pro-choicer -- sees through the zealotry of both sides and treats Ruth as an individual, and gives her the "tough love" she needs, instead of patronising her.
One of the things I like about this movie is that Payne presents us with _sincere_ activists, who make pretty good points for both sides. And that's where most Americans are; they're not _absolutely_ pro-life nor _absolutely_ pro-choice. But, reaching that point-of-view would take THOUGHT, which most rabid activists are incapable of.
I found this VHS (could not find DVD) is only available used, and is currently not in print. How sad! I hope Miramax is planning a new release. I have this movie on LaserDisc, and what a great introduction to Payne's ascerbic wit and keen visual sense that comes to full fruition in "Election."
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on November 27, 2005
This movie is a must present for radical pro-life and pro-choice. I always think of this movie when politicians or people debate this issue. It really shows how it is about the "issue" and not really about mother or a child. It is the greatest portrayal of this highly charged political issue.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Abortion is always a difficult topic to tackle, because its two extreme sides - pro-life and pro-choice - have a "you're either with us or against us and there's no in-between" mentality. Alexander Payne's Citizen Ruth is a political satire that does not take a stand on either side of the fence, instead choosing to remain neutral and expose the absurdities of each side.

Ruth Stoops (Laura Dern) is the very definition of troubled: an unemployed, drug-addled drifter with four children who were all taken away from her because she can't seem to get her life together. She's picked up for huffing and finds out that she's pregnant again, and the judge wants to impose a harsher sentence on her for endangering the fetus. This becomes a big news story, and soon Ruth finds herself being tugged at from both sides of the abortion issue.

Ruth is taken in first by the pro-life Norm and Gail Stoney, played by Mary Kay Place and Kurtwood Smith, whose intention it is to convince Ruth to have the baby. They want to help her get her life together, and offer her the guest room in their modest house as refuge from the sea of reporters that want the scoop on Ruth's story. All Ruth wants is to be left alone and to keep her life private. Oh, but she also wants to get high all the time to escape her life.

After Ruth has some difficulty with the Stoneys, another member of the pro-life commmitte, Diane Siegler (Swoosie Kurtz), takes Ruth in, and reveals that she is actually an undercover agent for the pro-choice force. The tug of war then kicks off in earnest, with the pro-lifers offering a large cash reward to Ruth for having the baby, and the pro-choicers attempting to match it. All the while, neither side really seems to care much about Ruth at all; they're more concerned with their own agendas.

Now, nothing I have said here indicates that this is actually a comedy, but there are several laugh-out-loud moments. However, director/co-writer Alexander Payne, in this, his first film, and his later films, never attempts to design scenarios simply to make the audience laugh. He's more concerned with exposing situations, and if comedy results, then so be it. In my opinion, it's a great way of doing comedy: make the laughs come from putting characters in situations that they would avoid if they could, but circumstances rule that there is no alternative.

It's kind of difficult to universally recommend a movie like Citizen Ruth, because of the subject matter. A lot of people will say that abortion is not something you should joke about, and I absolutely agree with them. However, if you can see past the subject of abortion and instead consider this film as a study in herd mentality, I think it can be rewarding.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on December 26, 1998
Payne sends up the current American obession with the female womb brilliantly. No one, neither the right or the left in the pro/choices prolife debate escapes his ascerbic wit. But like all good satire there is real heart in both the writing, and direction. Payne introdues us to Ruth Stoops (play on feminist icon Ruth Stopes?)a white trash horror whose only motivation in life is to find her next fix and puts her at the center of the right/left divide on abortion. The dialogue in this film crackles with the authenticity, great characters abound; special mention goes to Dern for resisting the temptation to soften Ruth's hard edges. This is the antithesis of your typical chick movie, good, funky,subversive fun!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on June 3, 1999
-- this movie helps to sort out your feelings, because, while abortion is a very serious matter, the people in the public eye in both the pro-choice and anti-abortion sides are often, well, laughingstocks. This movie deals with that aspect... the way extremists are so bizzarre and ultimately unhelpful. 'Citizen Ruth' can show how abortion extremists often ignore the flesh-and-blood women they're dealing with and spend more time arguing concepts.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on May 17, 2000
It's often said that artists in their vision are in advance of current thinking. Ironic, isn't it, that Payne and Company several years back saw the Citizen Ruth character as a bean-bag for exploitation by self-congratulatory interest groups, well in anticipation of the one we've just created called Elian Gonzalez? This film says something that's frighteningly on target about contemporary "caring" America.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 3, 2007
I enjoyed this movie moderately while watching it. However, it was later while reflecting upon the movie that I realized how much I truly liked it.

Laura Dern does an amazing job. Ruth lacks a single redeeming quality and is one of the most unlikeable characters I have ever experienced. And although I tend to value the talents of actors towards the bottom of the ladder in the context of true talents or contribution to society, even I can recognize it takes a great actor to pull off what she did. Dern's performance is truly exceptional.

This movie is also really funny in a totally messed up way. When the Babysavers recruit Ruth's mother to their side and she asks Ruth, via bullhorn, what if she (Ruth's mother) had aborted her (Ruth)- Ruth's response is the most disturbingly funny thing I have ever heard (and totally inappropriate to repeat here).

The movie very deliberatly skewers both sides. However, I think the prolifers definitely get it worse - which is fine by me as I think they deserve it ;) But I can see why some prolifers may have their backs up against the wall after seeing this movie. The message of the movie is that the individual woman is ultimately lost and not valued in the context of this national debate. Which implicitly tends to support the underlying thrust of the pro-choice movement in my opinion (since ultimately society doesn't care about these women, and won't help them in the long run, they should be empowered to make their own choices). Therefore, I think it is fairly obvious that the moviemakers are pro-choice and that they may have failed in their efforts to appear neutral.

Another interesting aspect is that both sides are well-meaning in a way but Ruth is totally undeserving of the attention and support of either side. So although you are supposed to resent the extremists on both sides for using Ruth, you also have to contend with the fact that Ruth is totally unsympathetic. It is a totally unique and interesting set of circumstances.

I would recommend this movie to anyone able to recognize that absurdity and humor are inherent even in the darkest and most confusing aspects of life. (Maybe that is what helps get us through it all in the end?)
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on January 28, 2003
Alexander Payne went out on a limb for this film, and succeeded brilliantly in showing the fanatical zealots on both sides of the abortion debate. Almost every character (none them a positive one)is a caricature and portrayed to perfection by the highly recognizable actors who play them. The movie offends everyone and that is its appeal!!!
Laura Dern is outstanding in her role as the dim and drugged Ruth Stoops, utterly oblivious to the issues and to those who want only to use her to achieve their own ends. Ruth could care less about a "cause" --all she wants is money and a way to get high.
This movie points out the absolute disrespect that zealots who blindly follow a "cause" have for individual rights and free choice. They see everything in black-or-white and have no room for others' thoughts and just feel the need to control others' lives. To Payne's credit, however, there is no good side or bad side in this movie, and no pat ending either.
There is a lot of truth covered over by humor in this movie, and many things said that could never have been voiced in a more conventional film. It shows, among other things, how the more bizarre extremists actually do damage to the causes they want to promote.
Thought-provoking.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon June 11, 2012
Black comedies are usually controversial in tone. How else could they really be considered `black', and yet there is something about `Citizen Ruth' that seems almost too extreme for its own good. The subject of abortion is something that is so controversial because both sides of the equation (pro-life and pro-choice) are so firm and mostly aggressive in their beliefs. I understand that the point of this film is to shed light on the insane steps that some do take to further their cause and so, in a way, this is nothing more than a darkly lit satire. Still, this subject is hard to laugh at, and the script takes some situations too far, making it really hard to force a smile.

Other than some of the outlandish dialog, I didn't find much about `Citizen Ruth' to be comedic at all.

`Citizen Ruth' tells the story of a young, reckless drug addicted woman who is pregnant with yet another child (she has a few already that live with her brother) and facing criminal charges. The judge suggests an abortion in exchange for leniency and this sparks a heated war between the `baby savers' and pro-choice advocates who leach onto this woman and exploit her for their own gain. For me, there really wasn't room to make this a comedy, and so I'll admit to finding much of this rather uncomfortable. Scenes depicting Ruth getting high and or drunk while knowingly pregnant are hard to stomach and certainly no laughing matter. That said, watching character actors like Swoosie Kurtz, Kurtwood Smith and Mary Kay Place spar off in a battle of witty interchange is enjoyable to the hilt.

I'm usually pretty pleased with Alexander Payne. Despite loathing his most recent film (`The Descendants') I've found `Election', `About Schmidt' and `Sideways' to be some of the best films in their respective years. Sadly, this one lacks the punch it needed and really should have been tonally shifted. In fact, the approach he took to `The Descendants' (which was far more comedic than his usual fare) would have aided in this film's overall impact.

Still, the cast is exceptional. Laura Dern adds so many layers to Ruth and manages to highlight the dramatic tensions in her plight with ease, while exploiting her in a way that benefits the film and her scenes within it. Mary Kay Place is my favorite supporting player here, her hysterical convictions are beautifully played out and play to the film's comedic efforts. Sadly though, they can't save the script from being somewhat ill advised. I don't think this is just because of a personal opinion (I am wholeheartedly pro-life and will never change that viewpoint for anything) but some may think that it is. In the end, it was uneven and had glimmers of greatness, but I find this especially tonally challenged.
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