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Scott Ventura >> Movie Commentary >> January 2000 >> Citizen Ruth

Citizen Ruth

Movie Commentary by Scott Ventura


Scott's Rating:
4 / 5
Times Seen:
Viewing Date:
January 2000
IMDB Name:
Citizen Ruth (1996)
Alexander Payne
comedy, drama
MPAA Rating:
R for substance abuse, strong language and a sex scene.


In a single movie, Alexander Payne established himself as a director willing to tackle difficult heroes. That movie was Citizen Ruth, and it pulls no punches. Abortion is a sufficiently thorny topic to pick for any film, but Payne and co-writer Jim Taylor made it a bigger challenge by making it a comedy. It's a somewhat sneaky comedy, though, starting out with a significantly depressing character introduction. Fortunately, the rest of the movie is populated with many characters who see Ruth Stoops as an opportunity, and the comedy comes mostly from them. Ruth's situation becomes increasingly muddled as both sides lobby to make her the poster child for their side of the debate, and it is only her anger at being manipulated that keeps the tone from degenerating into pure comedy.


Payne and Taylor neatly sidestep either obvious resolution for the story without straining credibility to an extreme. As a result, they carefully conceal their own opinion on the issue and take potshots at both sides from their neutral stance. There's a twisted joy in watching Kenneth Mars and Kathleen Noone go through their pro-life spiel, especially the smile plastered on Noone's face as she watches Laura Dern recoil in horror at a video. Swoosie Kurtz and Kelly Preston enter as apparent voices of reason, but that notion is dismissed pretty quickly. By the time the movie is over, not a single character seems to know what's right, and that's probably the best way for Payne and Taylor to leave it.

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Copyright 2000-2001 by Scott Ventura. All rights reserved.