Citizen Ruth - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Citizen Ruth Reviews

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June 1, 2016
Brilliant director Alexander Payne brings us his first feature film, tackling the very sensitive topic of abortion. As with all his other features, Payne gives us a heavy mix of pitch black humor and social commentary. A young drug addicted woman, played by Laura Dern, discovers that she's pregnant and finds herself being manipulated by both the pro-life and pro-choice people. There's definitely some interesting ideas here. Both sides are equally lampooned and provide plenty of opportunities for some decent humor. With that said however, these ideas don't appear to go much further than a surface level mockery. There's no really deep conversations going on and that's unfortunate considering Payne's other films have a knack for subtle but genuine insight. Now this would be fine if the characters were interesting but this leads to another issue: Laura Dern. For an actress who always turns in such wonderful work, it's a shame that she never quite finds her mark. She goes over the top a little too often and it's never very convincing. Fortunately for her, the supporting players (including Kurtwood Smith and Swoosie Kurtz) pick up the slack and make it work. Citizen Ruth is a mixed bag for sure. It has moments of great comedy and some fun performances, but it never truly reaches its potential.
April 26, 2016
Comedy about abortion if that's even possible.
February 19, 2016
"Citizen Ruth" is an exceptional, unforgiving satire that somehow makes a black comedy out of a hot button issue that will perhaps never stop being piping: abortion. But it doesn't pick sides, nor does it make a joke out of the seriousness of the topic. It doesn't even seem to be about abortion It is, rather, intensely focused on the flaming passion that surrounds both pro-choice and pro-life activists; lost in their determination to "win" a battle that will never be won, they easily forget about their humanity in favor of proving an unprovable point. The directorial debut of Alexander Payne ("Election," "Sideways"), "Citizen Ruth" is precise in its satire and its empirical standpoints. Never supposed to be about an "issue," Payne has stated, the film is an over-the-top study regarding the nature of fanaticism. And so he shrewdly does the unthinkable, making us question the motivations of advocates while also mixing a brutal and funny pasquinade martini.
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.
January 23, 2016
Alexander Payne is an interesting filmmaker and I have tremendous respect for him. But sometimes, I don't find his sense of humor funny and I also don't have patience for unlikable characters with no arc either. Laura Dern is terrific and absolutely despicable as Ruth Stoops, and I admire the film's courage to tackle on such a sensitive subject matter. My problem with the film is more of a personal one, and that is this: I don't like movies that revolve around a character with no redeeming qualities. Citizen Ruth is smart and thought-provoking, but doesn't have much emotional resonance in the end.
October 24, 2015
i bet this looked fantastic as a script.
½ August 30, 2015
really gets the mix of humor and pathos just right no EZ task
February 5, 2015
"Citizen Ruth" mocks the misguided morals of Christian conservatives who shame, threaten, and scare women into having children they can't afford to support and attempts to mock the left with some weak jabs at hippie culture. The character of Ruth is problematic, but the film as a whole is funny enough to warrant a recommendation.
½ January 13, 2015
An interesting satire on the topic of abortion. Payne does a great job portraying just how ridiculous democracy can get sometimes, and how it can make some people feel lost in the never ending moral battles. On the downside, certain parts of the script felt forced. A good satire knows just how far it actually needs to go in order to be satirical, but Citizen Ruth seemed to walk that thin line between good satire and cringe-worthy jokes much too frequently. Also the soundtrack was extremely out of place and distracting. But Laura Dern's unforgettable performance as an aging drug addict is likely one of her greatest performances, and is most definitely the best reason to see this film.
½ January 8, 2015
Alexander Payne makes his directorial debut in this satire of the American Abortion debate about a unintelligent young woman with drug and alcohol abuse issues who gets pregnant and ends up getting pulled by both sides of the abortion debate to be used as a symbol for their causes. Laura Dern is great as the titular Ruth, and there is a whole range of supporting characters that are fun. The best part is that both sides of the debate are presented satirically, no one is treated like their side is 100% right. Really worth a look, a lot of fun, though Payne does go on to make even better films.
½ October 14, 2014
Slightly amusing at times, but is missing a little something, perhaps an emotional center?? I liked how dedicated the film and Laura Dern are committed to her character, she's pretty funny. Part of the problem, though, is that she seems like a symbol more than a character, and that might have been the director's intention, but it doesn't really incline me to care about any of it.
August 21, 2014
Citizen Ruth is a comedy not about the topic of abortion, but about opposing fanatics of a political issue who seem to be no better than the other making a glue-huffing homeless woman as despicable as Ruth Stoop look like the sane one. Very clever. Very funny.
August 8, 2014
(First and only viewing - 9/24/2009)
May 19, 2014
Brilliantly acted, finely crafted satire that goes after both sides of the debate--and the notion of debate over this subject in the first place.
½ April 24, 2014
Oh '90s Alexander Payne, I miss you. Come back to me!
February 23, 2014
A powerful film that gives Laura Dern the performance of a lifetime. A wonderful supporting cast and even though it was his first film, a way different light in tone from Payne's work.
Super Reviewer
½ February 20, 2014
There aren't to many comedies about abortion out there today, but Alexander Payne attempts on in Citizen Ruth. The movie has guts, but the humor itself doesn't have the shock value I was expecting. The witty Payne could've pulled a few jaw droppers, but didn't even attempt them. The movie still has funny moments, as Ruth is pulled between a poster child of pro-life and pro-choice, when she as a drug addict gets pregnant with her forth child. The espionage reveal was funny, but there aren't to many other laugh out loud moments.

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.
January 6, 2014
Great performance by Dern, but wears a little thin because she's not sympathetic, just kind of an empty soul, and there's no one to root for in this movie. Good movie though, just not a great movie.
December 22, 2013
Can't believe this is Payne's.
Super Reviewer
½ September 26, 2013
One of the best political satires to deal with the extremely volatile subject of abortion, first time director Alexander Payne gave a powerhouse first film to his repertoire with this bitterly acid black comedy. What I think everyone appreciates is that both sides of this debate are shown in equally unpleasant terms, but not exactly unrealistic ones. The conservative branch are a set of violent and mean spirited protesters, but they also have women who regret their own abortions, and people who sincerely try to help the less fortunate. The liberal side is characterized as a set of lesbian leaning protestors and a freedom fighting mercenary who care about the right to choose. In the middle of this blood sport for the sake of creation is the character of Ruth (Dern), who doesn't care about the politics that make her center stage in a tumultuous feud. Instead of caring about the sanctity of human life, or about the freedom to choose, she cares about what is best for her. She makes the film enjoyable because she cares about very little except getting a lot of money and getting high behind a convenience store. It's really interesting how each side is fighting for her rights in their own way, trying to give her the freedom to choose and yet both leaning towards a different end-game, and yet she only wants to know what's best for herself. It's this selfish attitude that makes for the best moments, especially because there isn't any morale and certainly not any lessons learned from her experiences. Ruth is continually given the chance to do right, but every time she enables her formal bad behavior so she can get away clean. This film illustrates that human choice precedes morals, intellectual discussion, and politics, and that human choice is subjective based on who the person is. I think this film is good for anyone, on either side of the political spectrum, not for educational purposes, but because it works as a great character study as well as satire for its own sake.
Super Reviewer
July 11, 2013
This marked the feature debut of director and co-writer Alexander Payne, and man, did he get off to a good start.

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.
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