F.I.L.M. of the Week (March 16, 2012)

16 03 2012

Before Alexander Payne won his second Oscar for “The Descendants,” he still had game.  “Citizen Ruth,” my pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week,” was his first feature film back in 1996, and it still has all the clever humor and heart of his later, more acclaimed works.  A razor-sharp satire of the abortion debate and the rest of the ridiculous culture wars of the ’90s, Payne leaves no party blameless, subjecting them all to scrutiny and criticism.

His protagonist, once again, is not someone easy to identify with; we merely experience the movie through them and become all the more aware of their flaws.  Here, it’s Ruth Stoops (Laura Dern), an irresponsible child trapped in a woman’s body (figuratively speaking, this isn’t “Benjamin Button” after all).  She’s addicted to huffing fumes, putting her own life in danger and giving no attention to the lives of her young children.  Now, she’s in trouble with the law for the sixteenth time … and pregnant.

Ruth’s first thought is to get an abortion as she can barely take care of herself.  But before she can act, she is ambushed by the two sides of the abortion debate, fervent Bible-clutching pro-lifers and free-spirited sexually loose pro-choicers.  To them, Ruth is little more than a tally to add to their team’s score, a prize to be swayed and won.  They objectify her and will do anything to placate her, truly pulling out all the stops to convince her to choose their side.

Deciding whether or not to bring a child into the world is such a human decision, yet no one really seems to care about the baby in the whole debacle.  Payne shows how horrifying the rhetoric from both camps has become as to remove all humanity from the discussion; even Ruth, the woman at the center of the controversy, sways throughout the film based on who can offer her the most money.  Dern’s performance is a little cartoonish and annoying at times, but I would watch anyone act if they were endowed with the words of Alexander Payne.



One response

17 03 2012
Steven Flores

I remembered watching this film for the first time during that whole affair about this woman who was becoming brain-dead as she was being exploited by the media and right-wing/left-wing groups.

The whole film really made sense of the stupidity over these groups while in the middle of this is a woman who may not be a complete imbecile but has no idea what she wants. It’s a very smart film though I wish I could do without a topless Burt Reynolds being massaged like that.

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