Saturday, December 17, 2011

Citizen Ruth

Ruth turns her latest trick and is tossed out in the cold, wrongly thinking she had a place to stay for the night. After bashing the john's headlights in, she heads to her brother's house (who is fathering one of her many children) to borrow, buys a can of paint, and proceeds to huff it in the alley on the side of of the store. She gets picked up for the umpteenth time and while in jail discovers she is pregnant once again. Behind close doors, the judge in the case offers leniency if she will terminate the pregnancy, and word of this gets out. Soon, Ruth will be the center of attention in the abortion debate, first on the side of the Pro-Lifers, then on the side of Choice. By drawing his heroine as an ignorant wench with no political thought whatsoever, Alexander Payne uses her as a device by which to lampoon the abortion issue on both sides, as well as bipartisan politics in general. "Citizen Ruth" was director Payne's and cowriter Jim Taylor's debut film, and it contains many of the elements that made their subsequent so warm, humanistic, realistic, and honest. This is a stinging satire that does its best to be objective, although I think they are drawn more towards one side than most reviewers would leave you to believe. The problem with the film however lies in Laura Dern's performance. Although she gives it a gutsy go, she is way to manic and loathsome for us to draw even the slightest sympathy for. "Citizen Ruth" is alternately funny and hard going, and is best viewed as a preview of the great work Payne and Taylor would compose down the line.