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Citizen Ruth
Citizen Ruth
Actors: Laura Dern, Swoosie Kurtz, Mary Kay Place, Kurtwood Smith, Kelly Preston
Director: Alexander Payne
Genres: Comedy, Drama
R     2003     1hr 46min

Meet Ruth Stoops. She's homeless, dumb as a cinder block, and loves to get high huffing spray paint. Life would be dandy if it weren't for one tiny problem -- she's gotten herself knocked up for the umpteenth time, and it ...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Laura Dern, Swoosie Kurtz, Mary Kay Place, Kurtwood Smith, Kelly Preston
Director: Alexander Payne
Creators: James Glennon, Alexander Payne, Andrew Stone, Cary Woods, Cathy Konrad, Michael Zimbrich, Jim Taylor
Genres: Comedy, Drama
Sub-Genres: Comedy, Drama
Studio: Miramax
Format: DVD - Color,Anamorphic - Closed-captioned
DVD Release Date: 04/08/2003
Original Release Date: 12/13/1996
Theatrical Release Date: 12/13/1996
Release Year: 2003
Run Time: 1hr 46min
Screens: Color,Anamorphic
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 11
MPAA Rating: R (Restricted)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

Brilliant, hilarious satire
Lleu Christopher | Hudson Valley, NY | 12/06/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)

"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."
Alexander Payne's Allegorical Farce
Interplanetary Funksmanship | Vanilla Suburbs, USA | 07/14/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)

"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.""
Very good satire tackling the tough topic of abortion
Christopher Moyer | Philadelphia, PA | 03/07/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)

"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."
Great satire
Herzog | United States | 11/27/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"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."