Citizen Ruth Reviews
As dauntless as the film itself, Laura Dern gallantly stars as Ruth Stoops, an unremitting fuck-up whose existence solely consists of getting high, drunk, or pregnant. As the film opens, she's having rough sex with a guy she barely knows in a flop house; as soon as they're finished, he viciously throws her out, causing her to go to the corner store and purchase some patio sealant to huff out of a paper bag in protest. The cops, who find her unconscious on the street, know her by name, and when she's taken to court a short time later, Ruth also discovers that she's pregnant. It will be her fifth child, the other four from separate fathers and living in separate homes. She's already been deemed as an unfit mother, twice. The judge is disturbed by her lack of responsibility, and propositions her with an ultimatum outside the courtroom - if she gets an abortion, he promises that he'll deal with her upcoming felony charges less severely.
Ruth has minuscule brain power and considers the idea to be fair; her mind is only changed, though, when she meets a group of pro-life activists in a holding cell, who take her under their manipulative wings and make her a poster child for the abortion debate. Soon begins a tug-of-war between pro-life and pro-choice zealots, half the movie spent with conservatives willing to bribe her with thousands of dollars to keep the child, half with left-wingers who also are unopposed to paying her off to ring victorious in a never-ending game.
Taking into consideration just how easily "Citizen Ruth" could have sunk into a pool of controversial quicksand had it just contained one problematic plot point, it's impressive how distinctly unbiased it remains throughout its length. With no obvious heroes and villains, we're absorbed by the extremism of its pro-lifers and its pro-choicers, how they're so bent on claiming Ruth as being on *their side* that they forget that a woman who can't do shit (besides losing her temper and getting hammered) will, in the end, never make a dent on why having a baby versus aborting a fetus is the *right* thing to do. Most of the film's humor stems from Ruth's stupidity, and from the way the vigorous activists around her don't actually seem to much care about her well-being - they care about their individual missions, which will never really be settled (twenty years later and the abortion topic is still as boiling). It's an endless circle, and I love the way the ending is exactly what it should be: a flippant cop-out.
The performance are all flawless, too, verging on the edge of insanity yet maintaining believability because its actors don't allow for cartoonishness. Dern is first-rate as the film's titular Ruth, never necessarily likable, but always effortlessly watchable because we're so inclined to see what idiotic actions her character will commit next, what doltish words will come out of her drugged-out mouth. Swoosie Kurtz, Kelly Preston, and M.C. Gainey are perfect as the movie's vehement pro-choicers, and Mary Kay Place, Kurtwood Smith, and Kathleen Noone are slimily saccharine as the pro-lifers. Tippi Hedren and Burt Reynolds stop by with show-stopping cameo roles.
But despite the fact that we'd expect "Citizen Ruth" to rub some people the wrong way, it is a conspicuously hilarious dark comedy that never goes too far, rather making ingenious observations that don't hit us as being brilliant until we really sit and think about them. Payne and Taylor have devised a terrific screenplay; Dern gives one of the best performances of her career.
The film has some explorative cinematography, when put in the first person perspective of Ruth. It's nothing ground breaking, but is intriguing.
I felt that Ruth switched from mellow disinterest to extreme passion to often. Perhaps it was to show the ever changing moves of an inhaler addict, but it didn't always make sense. Luara Dern has gotten acclaim for this role, but I didn't see anything special. Little true emotion, and far to much swaying.
This is a scathing satire on the hot-button issue of abortion, and the ballsiest move that is made is that the film takes neither side, and instead skewers them both equally.
Ruth is an unfit, drug addicted scumbag loser who, after finding out she's pregnant with her fifth child, finds herself unwittingly in the middle of the pro-life/pro-choice war as a hapless pawn who really wants nothing to do with either side, but is willing to play ball once she figures out that either side is willing to give her tons of cash if she joins in,
The film is a tad rough, but makes for a striking debut. It's got nothing but unlikable characters, and takes the best position on an issue where neither side is truly right or truly wrong. The portrayals of the pro-choicers and the pro-lifers are dead on accurate, and that will probably make some people very uneasy.
I think this is a bold film, and one that's also very sharp, funny, and entertaining, It does get a bit repetitive after a while, but overall, proves to be quite solid.
Laura Dern is brilliant as Ruth, and this is easily her most courageous and strong performance. It takes talent to pull off such a tough character, but she absolutely nails it. Other actors such as Kurtwood Smith and Swoosie Kurtz turn in some good work as well, but seem far less well rounded, and veer more often than not towards caricature. It's still some nice work though.
Payne obviously went on to far greater achievements, but this marked a great place for him to begin. Give it a go, it's quite something.