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“Ask Dr. Ruth” Pertinent and Profound




Review by John Delia

On a rare occasion a movie documentary will come along that compels, intrigues, inspires and entertains, and Ask Dr. Ruth fits the bill. A well thought out, directed and informative biography of one of the most iconic women who ever lived, the film can be expressed in one word, magnetic. And, it keeps on giving way beyond the comical overtones, deep Holocaust memories, to her devotion to helping people appreciate the captivation of sex.

The history of Dr. Ruth starts in Germany where as Karola Siegel she was cared for by a loving mother and father and her affectionate grandmother. But, that only lasted until she reached her pre-teen years as the Nazis came knocking on the door. Carting off her father to a labor camp cut deep, but motivated her to be strong when she was sent to safety in Switzerland. Of course there’s more to this story that gets spooled out on the screen, but I use this paragraph to show what this one woman dynamo carries in her heart all her years. It’s that part of the film that will captivate with first hand recollections of that awful time told from her diary and letters that were sent to her by her father and mother.

Ask Dr. Ruth from HULU/Magnolia Pictures

Along with Dr. Ruth’s commentary as photos, video, TV interviews, classroom lectures, newspaper articles, and much more pass by are the recollections of many. Other observations by family, people that were either close to her or writers who followed her fame are included. Her Minister of Communications Pierre Lehu, who for 36 years acted as her publicist, calendar, and booking agent does a splendid job of introducing the very talented and brilliant woman who still keeps audiences on the edge of their seats waiting for the next quip, inspiring words, her being nonjudgmental in her libidinous bold statements.

Others chime in as well including TV Producer Greg Willenborg who followed Dr. Ruth’s career leading into her life of relentless teaching and selflessness. He talks about her as America’s leading sex therapist and the trust that people have in her. He points out her work in making aware the AIDS epidemic and for finding a cure without condemnation of the infected. Dr. Ruth’s TV Producer John Lollos comments on her take on abortion.

Personal friends recall her early life including her best friend Dallah “Marga” Miller on a trip to Haifa, Israel and first boyfriend Walter Northmann she had at the Wartheim Orphanage in Switzerland, who she visits in New York. They talk about their time together and Dr. Ruth recalls her first intimate encounter with a young soldier.

Ask Dr. Ruth from HULU/Magnolia Pictures

Passages from her diary, recollections and letters are read by her daughter Miriam Westheimer, son Joel Westheimer and her granddaughter Leora Einleger. Miriam tells of the effect her past has had on her. She says that even though her mother won’t talk about feelings regarding her patent’s death at the camps, she has known to reply that German Jews do not cry in public. Among other things like her grandmothers views on politics and women’s rights, Leora talks about the tensions in Israel between Jews and Arabs following the war in 1947 while her mother was living on a Kibbutz.

The film has such depth and vitality that it becomes a joy to watch as this amazing person lays out her own life for all to see. Directed by Ryan White, he delivers the film in a novel way of showing part of her early years in animation making it touchingly visual. It’s a wonderful technique that transcends the verbal with heartfelt tableaus of the loss of family to the Nazis, escape to safety, early love life and her narrow escape from death.

Dr. Ruth Westheimer and director, Ryan White shown. (Photo by: Austin Hargrave)

He keeps the film inviting by mixing her past with her future so it’s not just a “movie”, but a showing of this great woman’s past that brought her to the forefront of America. He covers nearly every facet of Dr. Ruth’s controversial beginning of her radio shows, the acceptance by her audiences and her ability to make them comfortable with themselves both sexually and psychologically. Although he glorifies a bit, he leaves nothing out showing her penchant for not being political, but still having an opinion on AIDS, Planned Parenthood, abortion, homosexuality and more. When asked by her Granddaughter if she is a Feminist like her, she replies with authority, “but not a radical one”.

Ask Dr. Ruth has not been rated by the MPAA, but contains explicit references naming sexual body parts and their use. Mature persons should have no problem with the film in that regard.

FINAL ANALYSIS: One of the most touching biographies that has hit the big screen. (5 out of 5 Stars)

Additional Film Information:
Cast: Dr. Ruth Westheimer
Directed and written by: Ryan White
Genre: Biography, Documentary, Comedy
MPAA Rating: Not Rated, talks graphically and explicit about sex
Running Time: 1 hr. 40 min.
Opening Date: May 3, 2019
Distributed by: HULU/Magnolia Pictures
Released in: Standard

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