Citizen Ruth is the story of Ruth Stoops (Laura Dern), a "huffer" (paint/glue/other hazardous vapor sniffer) who finds herself the unlikely center of a modern morality play. Ruth, pregnant for the fifth time and up on drug charges once again, is given a choice by an unsympathetic judge: go to jail for criminally endangering her fetus, or have an abortion and face a lighter sentence. Immediately, ires are raised and banners are crafted from both sides of the abortion issue -- with Ruth Stoops, the lowest of the low, right in the middle.
What follows is a rather simple tale of pro-choice vs. pro-life, and there's no clear good guy in all of this. But instead of focusing on the issue, the filmmakers choose to focus on the characters -- and they're all pretty loathsome when you get down to brass tacks. Worst of all is Dern, who is so gratingly offensive that by the end of the movie you really just want her to shut up more than anything else.
Some of the supporting characters are amusing, but it gets to the point where you just can't take any more Southern small-town kitsch and an overwhelming desire to leave this no-win debate overtakes you. But something keeps you in your seat -- and it isn't just the gum on the floor. I guess it's the humor that the filmmakers have instilled into this not-too-funny situation and the earnestness with which they try to tell this story.
All in all, a nice try at a tough topic.
Finally released on DVD, the new Citizen Ruth cut includes a commentary from a number of the cast and crew, including Payne, Taylor, and Dern.
Hey there, wonder girl.
Run time: 106 mins
In Theaters: Friday 13th December 1996
Distributed by: Miramax
Production compaines: Miramax Films, Independent Pictures (II)
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 80%
Fresh: 20 Rotten: 5
IMDB: 7.0 / 10
Director: Alexander Payne
Starring: Laura Dern as Ruth Stoops, Swoosie Kurtz as Diane Siegler, Kurtwood Smith as Norm Stoney, Mary Kay Place as Gail Stoney, Kelly Preston as Rachel, M.C. Gainey as Harlan, Kenneth Mars as Dr. Charlie Rollins, David Graf as Judge Richter, Tippi Hedren as Jessica Weiss, Burt Reynolds as Blaine Gibbons, Diane Ladd as Ruth's mother