Poor old Ruth Stoops (Laura Dern). Not only is she homeless, addicted to huffing paint on a regular-basis, and not able to see her kids, but now she’s pregnant with her fourth child. And trust us, four is enough for her, and lord, even she knows it. That’s why she plans on having an abortion as soon as possible, that is, until the “Baby Savers” get ahold of her and try to make her keep it, all in the good lord’s name who don’t really seem to care about her or the baby, they just want the publicity that somebody is listening to their ways and not thinking otherwise. But Ruth knows that she wants to get rid of the baby, so she then gets taken in by the pro-choice group that actually had a spy (Swoosie Kurtz) in the pro-life group. At first, things with the pro-choice group seem all fine and dandy, with Ruth getting all sorts of lovely treatment in hopes that she’ll get rid of the baby and stick to their side, however, things change around once the pro-life group offers her $15,000 to keep the baby and let it live. And then, the whole deal gets changed around again once pro-choicers offer her the same amount, if not more to get rid of it. What’s poor old little Ruth to do when she has all of this money being waved around in her face, and a baby still in her stomach? My oh my, questions, questions, questions.
It should come as no surprise to anyone who has seen just about all of his movies that Alexander Payne sure does love to poke fun at people. But already in the year 2013, we know this. Back in 1996, nobody had a clue what this guy was capable of doing, or even what his name was. All that they knew was that there was a movie out, that dealt with abortion, starred Laura Dern and that was basically it.
And over 17 years later, that’s all people still know of it as and quite frankly, rightfully so.
While I can’t get on Payne’s case too much considering that this was his first movie, I will say that he does go for the gull when it comes approaching the topic on-hand. It doesn’t matter how many years go by, the abortion debate will always be one up for much discussion and controversy, and it’s how funny Payne turned that on its side in a satirical way, highlighting both sides to the best of his ability. Of course it’s easy to poke fun at the heavy-duty Christians that pray to the lord, hail him as the almighty and banish all those who decide to kill their babies to hell, but it never seemed so easy to poke the same type of fun at the liberals on the other side of the coin, which is what really shocked me here. Rather than showing which side he’s on more, he sort of just lets them both speak for themselves, with them both seeming greedy and ill-tempered, yet well-intentioned, as if what they are doing is what they truly believe in as the right way to go about things in your daily-life. Their only problem is that they don’t know how to go about it in a nicer way.
That said, the movie definitely doesn’t really tell us anything we don’t already know about the subject of abortion, the people that get them, perform them or support them as an action. Mainly, the movie just gives us a story about a girl who gets caught in the middle of this whole media-frenzy where she and her baby are the center of attention, and the topic of abortion is lingering over it. While I do, once again, give Payne credit for spinning this in a way to where it plays both sides view-points in a sympathetic, fair manner, the movie itself just never got over that hurdle for me to where I was totally, and utterly involved.
Plenty of food-for-thought if you think about how far we’ve come as a society in discussing the topic of abortion, but that’s all it is: A thinking piece. Sure, we have characters, character-development, a witty script and even some heartfelt insights to the way humans interact, think and get their points across, but they all just feel like filler for the real attraction of this whole movie: Abortion. I know it sounds terrible to use that as a selling-point for a movie, but it seems like that’s what the creators behind this movie did, which doesn’t matter it any better. It just makes it a smart decision in order to get your movie seen and noticed by dozens of people, which is why I have to give more credit to Payne.
Good job on the advertising, bud. Not-so good job on the final-product itself. Oh well. You picked yourself back up in the years to come, so all is forgiven.
But where this flick really feels like a total disappointment is in the way that it wastes a very talented cast, giving them material that feels like a bunch of ham-handed speeches that do have a point, but are shown to us in the wrong format. For instance, you have great character actors like Kurtwood Smith, Swoozie Kurtz, Mary Kay Place and even M.C. Gainey showing up, looking like they’re going to bring some of their miraculous personalities to the script, but in reality, all they do is become victims of Payne’s preaches. They all do what they can to make the material worth more than just a series of thought-provoking lines, speeches and discussion-starters, but overall, they just succumb to the problems and are left with nothing else to do.
And then of course we have Laura Dern as Ruth, and as talented as this gal may be, she too can’t help but become a victim to the weak-material, if not even worse due to how annoying her character can be at times. I get that Ruth is supposed to be a despicable piece of a white girl trailer-trash, however, there could have been more substance to her than what we got. Once again, Dern’s performance is another case where we have a terribly talented actress, given this piece of material that has reaching for the stars, but ends up coming down empty-handed with nothing to show. Well, except for maybe a spot on her resume that shows she’s got those indie-chops.
Consensus: Payne never chooses a side to stick with in Citizen Ruth, and is the smartest decision he makes throughout the whole entire movie, which brings up a lot of smart, thought-provoking points about the abortion debate, but ends up being just that, no substance added or involved.
5 /10 = Rental!!
Photo’s Credit to: IMDB