Dr. Ruth Westheimer seems to be the perfect subject of a documentary. Dr. Ruth was famous as a sex therapist, a TV personality and an American icon. She has a good sense of humour and is a good sport. She is still alive and healthy enough to provide candid interviews in this doc on her life. She also has a colourful past the makes the doc more personal as well.
Ryan White’s (THE KEEPERS, THE CASE AGAINST 8) Ask Dr. Ruth traces the incredible life of Dr. Ruth Westheimer, a Holocaust survivor who became America’s most famous sex therapist. With her diminutive frame, thick German accent and uninhibited approach, Dr. Ruth transformed the conversation around sexuality. As she approaches her 90th birthday and shows no signs of slowing down, Dr. Ruth revisits her painful past and her path to a career at the forefront of the sexual revolution.
Ryan’s film covers all the details following Dr. Ruth as she travels from New York (where she’s lived in the same apartment for 54 years) to Switzerland (where she was sent to a Jewish orphanage at age 10 from her native Germany, never to see her parents again) to Israel (where she trained as a sniper). Two highlights will bring tears to viewers’ eyes. (1) A sweet meet up with her childhood boyfriend. (2) The discovery of her parents’ fate.
Dr. Ruth’s childhood is recalled through her own diaries, with storybook animation (as opposed to clumsy re-enactments) filling in the gaps. The film also shows lively excerpts from her hit radio show Sexually Speaking and her TV appearances with the likes of Arsenio Hall and Johnny Carson. “Is it all right to make noise while having sex?” asks one man to Dr. Ruth in one of her open sessions. “Only of you do not wake up the wife,” she answers. Her shows are always humorous if not insightful – sex-wise.
After two early marriages, Dr. Ruth’s third – to her beloved Manfred Westheimer – lasted for over 35 years until his death in 1997. The day he died is the only time their daughter ever saw her mother cry. The film includes interviews with her grown up children.
But why has Dr. Ruth done wrong? Nobody is perfect. The only instance White looks at the other side of Dr. Ruth is when he interviews an expert psychologist who claims Dr. Ruth is impulsive and should study more of her patients before dishing out advice. Dr. Ruth claims tat she has helped countless people overcome their sex problems when they never before dared to talk about the subject of sex. True, she also became a champion for causes like homosexuality, fighting to educate AIDs in a time that nobody dared to speak up.
White has assembled quite the exhaustive footage on his subject resulting in an informative and entertaining documentary. The film premiere at Hot Docs to favourable reviews.