Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Citizen Ruth, or: Merry Christmas?

Delay in posting means we’re kicking off December with a satirical abortion comedy starring a very ’90s Laura Dern.  Nothing says Christmas like a vicious debate about the undetermined future of a woman’s pregnancy…right, Mary?

The Film:

Citizen Ruth

The Premise:

A young woman, pregnant and with nowhere to turn, unwittingly finds herself in the spotlight as both sides of the abortion debate try to influence the decision about her pregnancy.

The Ramble:

After a fight with her boyfriend and the cold shoulder from her brother, Ruth is SOL with nowhere to go.  Spending her last dollars to get drunk and high on paint fumes, it’s not long before the police are on her case…again.

When she is checked into a hospital, Ruth learns some unwelcome news:  she is pregnant again.  Having already given birth to and lost custody of 4 children, Ruth is charged with criminal endangerment of a fetus.  Quickest way to avoid those charges?  Get an abortion.

Ruth’s plans go awry when a seemingly altruistic group of strangers post her bail–the only time anyone has every posted her bail.  Of course, these good Samaritans have an ulterior motive:  they are pro-lifers determined to convince Ruth of her moral obligation to have the baby.

While experiencing the middle-class lifestyle for the first time, Ruth learns the price for her acceptance into the fold is the birth of a healthy baby…and going cold turkey on the booze and paint fumes.  Though the family presents the decision as Ruth’s to make, they take her to a hospital that shows her a horrendous video about abortion and straight-up lies about the procedure.  The small but devout group’s only source of entertainment(?) seems to be protesting outside of the local abortion clinic.

It doesn’t take long before Ruth feels suffocated and seeks out her old comfort of huffing paint fumes (and, in an extremely relateable move, punches a child).  Shamed by the pro-lifers, Ruth falls in with undercover pro-choice activist, Diane (Swoosie Kurtz).

Lending Ruth’s decision symbolic significance, both sides are determined to sway her to the correct side.  Bringing supporters from all across the country, celebrity figureheads (played by Burt Reynolds and Tippi Hedren!), and even Ruth’s mother into the debate fail to make an impact.  What really catches Ruth’s attention?  When both sides offer her $15,000 to persuade her to their way of thinking.

What will Ruth’s life-changing, earth-shattering decision be?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Ooooh, this one hurts a bit to watch.  It’s quite disheartening how relevant this film is almost 20 years later.  If anything, the abortion debate feels more contentious than ever, and women’s rights just as precarious.

This film highlights the hypocrisy on both sides as the pro-choice and pro-life groups give Ruth’s decision significance it doesn’t need to have.  Ruth never wants to make a statement with her choice–she simply wants to do what is best for her (aka get those sweet pro/anti-abortion $$$).  Neither side gives much consideration to what is actually best for Ruth.

However, it’s difficult not to see the connections between pro-life strategies then and now and note they don’t come off looking particularly great.  In addition to using the manipulative approaches of posting Ruth’s bail and telling her blatantly false medical lies, the characters give off an unnerving Pleasantville vibe, with all of those pasted-on smiles beginning to crack.  Besides, it’s my admittedly biased opinion that at least 75% of the problems in the world can be attributed to the kind of religions zealots who consistently claim to know and correctly interpret the intentions of their god.

As bleak as I’m making this sound, it ultimately is a satire, and one that does succeed in making some darkly funny observations.  It would probably be funnier if an emotionally unstable misogynist hadn’t just been appointed to the Supreme Court.

Would my blog wife choose this one’s side or take the money and run?  Find out here!

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