Jun 8, 2019
Closing out the week with another Certified Fresh documentary, this time about one of the most sex positive people in modern times. It’s also a Hulu Original Documentary, which we love to review here. For a couple other Hulu Original documentaries, check out “Minding the Gap” (Episode #242) and “Crime + Punishment” (Episode #249).
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Here we go!
Today’s movie is “Ask Dr. Ruth”, the Hulu Original documentary directed by Ryan White. The film follows the incredible life of Dr. Ruth Westheimer, a Holocaust survivor who became not only America’s most famous sex therapist, but also one of the most controversial personalities in a rapidly shifting culture. The film reflects back on her 90 year life, and considers her tremendous impact on society.
Before I saw this documentary, I probably knew less about Dr. Ruth’s actual life than I knew about the caricature and brand that she became during my youth in the 80s and 90s. I grew up in a mostly conservative town, so there wasn’t a radio station or a television station broadcasting her program, aside from the occasional press tour on the talk shows. However, I saw every cartoon, comedian and sketch comedy show impression of Dr. Ruth, and in that conservative town, we would snicker in secret about Dr. Ruth whenever we talked about sex, to hide our own discomfort or ignorance. And now that I have seen this documentary, I can confirm that Dr. Ruth Westheimer is absolutely all of these caricatures and impressions, but also so much more.
In fact, Dr. Ruth has quite a fascinating life. The documentary takes a mostly chronological look, told while following Dr. Ruth around in present day wherever it best compliments the story. Her earliest memories of fleeing the Nazis into a Swiss orphanage are complimented with an interview with a fellow child refugee today. Her time in British Palestine and as a sniper in the Israeli army is complimented by modern reflections of regret about her role in the violence and a visit to the Holocaust Remembrance Center. We see her adult life, grasping at any opportunities that presented themselves, and working hard to attain her PhD through service in multiple communities. And, of course, we see her meteoric rise to fame that helped usher a wave of normalization regarding sexual topics. In some respects, her taboo-breaking approach to sexual matters may seem quaint to us today, but that would only be because of her efforts.
I appreciated the scope of story told about her life, finding a good balance between the sensationalism and the realism of Dr. Ruth. The documentary is engaging from start to finish, flipping back and forth between her life story and her current life. Some portions of the story are told with the aid of some decent animation, bringing life to stories narrated by Dr. Ruth, especially in her early years. The documentary certainly gives a broad overview of Dr. Ruth’s life, and demonstrates her continuing work to normalize sexual topics in our lives, but it doesn’t reveal any juicy secrets or hidden knowledge that one might expect from someone as sensationalized as Dr. Ruth.
“Ask Dr. Ruth” is a solid documentary about Dr. Ruth Westheimer, telling her remarkable story from fleeing the Holocaust through the present day. While the sensationalized aspects of her work play into the film, they are balanced against other interesting and formative parts of her life. Fans of good documentaries, who don’t mind frank discussion of sexual topics, should definitely check out this film.
Rotten Tomatoes: 94% (CERTIFIED FRESH)
One Movie Punch: 8.0/10
“Ask Dr. Ruth” (2019) is not rated and is currently playing on Hulu.