When we think of Dr. Ruth Westheimer, we think of sex. After all, she brought it to the forefront of the American conversation back in the ‘80s. But after watching Ryan White’s “Ask Dr. Ruth,” the most comprehensive documentary about her life and times, you start to realize it’s the least interesting thing about her.
The 91-year-old sex therapist has now spent 40 years concocting sex education to the American public, but “Ask Dr. Ruth” covers the life of a girl born to Orthodox Jewish parents, a former holocaust survivor, Israeli army sniper, and thrice-married woman in a joyfully exuberant celebration of a strong-willed but triumphant woman. It’s the kind of film that will be very hard for the Academy to resist come next year’s doc category.
From its first scene on, Dr. Ruth asking “Alexa, will I get a boyfriend,” the film sets us up for an experience of laughter and tears.The 91 -year-old, a 4 foot 7 energizer bunny if ever one existed, still teaches sex at college, but director Ryan White is more interested in her past, what shaped her to be the strong-willed woman that she is.
Her life was forever changed when her parents were shuttled from Germany to Switzerland at the age of 10, the holocaust was about to happen and a young Ruth, staying at boarding school, recounts the vast amount of letters that came in a weekly basis from her mother, until they suddenly stopped. In fact, Ruth never really knew what happened to her parents until a few months ago when her suspicions were confirmed at a Holocaust research center she visited: her father was killed at Auschwitz in 1942 and her mother died, but we’re not sure where and when exactly.
Eventually Ruth would move to Palestine and become, of all things, a sniper for the Jewish Underground Army. She also survived a bombing which almost took both of her legs. Would marry and divorce twice before finding the love of her life. Eventually, her studies in sex education would lead to her having a radio show at 30 Rock in New York City, which was broadcast during graveyard hours but built such a cult audience that it had to be switched to the afternoon, where it broke out as the most listened to radio show in the city.
This entertaining documentary focuses on a woman that has refused to tackle the hardships she has endured in life, instead opting to focus on work and keeping herself busy for the last 50 years. Much of her earlier life, especially during WWII, is portrayed through a series of excellent animated sequences. Whenever moments become too dire for the audience, White shifts to present day Ruth, happier times, as she visits friends and family. The editing helps alleviate some of the sadness evoked by her young life, by alternating between past and present, which has White smartly telling his story in non-linear fashion. [B]
“Ask Dr. Ruth” will be released in theaters later this year.