Monday, April 29, 2019

A life unfurled in Ryan White's sweet and encompassing documentary, ASK DR. RUTH

My feelings about Dr. Ruth Westheimer -- who, at least until recently, was probably America's most famous therapist, media personality and author regarding the subject of sex -- have always been on the positive side, thanks to her huge help in bringing our country from the dark ages into the light in terms of sex, how we engage in it and what it means to us. That said, her near-constant rah-rah, feel-good, always-positive attitude did put me off a bit.

Having now seen the new and quite intelligent, engaging and encompassing documentary about Westheimer's life and times, ASK DR. RUTH, I have come to understand that this super active-positive attitude, given the history we see here, is a very necessary part of this woman's survival mechanism. (Toward the end of the movie, Westheimer's daughter calls her mom's need to be constantly on the go and accomplishing something part of her survival technique, but I would also suggest that her insistently positive attitude was and is part of her very survival.)

As directed by Ryan White, shown above, the documentary rumbles along, just as does its subject, with a lot of charm and wit, even as it encompasses the good doctor's early years as a child who managed to escape to Holocaust via a kindertransport to Switzerland.

Mr. White and his team, with the help of Westheimer (shown above and below), her family and other sources, have assembled a fine array of archival footage, along with some unusually good animation. While TrustMovies is usually not much of a fan of animation in documentaries, he must admit that it works quite well in this one. Its very sweetness and lightness of touch seem to fit Ms Westheimer like the proverbial glove.

How this child and then young woman went from Germany to Switzerland to France and eventually to America, in the process getting a fine education and then putting it to even better use, proves a fascinating tale well told. Her early "learning," offered via another student at the orphanage where she was relocated, is a particularly poignant and effective piece in the Westheimer puzzle.

During the documentary, we hear from family, friends and co-workers, and while what they tell us may not surprise much, it all adds up to the lovely and rich tapestry that has been woven into an impressive and edifying life. It is hard to imagine any intelligent, inquisitive audience not fully responding to this story of change and growth, history and sexuality, and a life particularly well lived.

Dr. Westheimer will celebrate her 91st birthday this June. Good for her. Lucky for us.

From Hulu and released theatrically by Magnolia Pictures, Ask Dr. Ruth opens in select theaters nationwide this Friday, May 3, and will be available exclusively on Hulu beginning June 1. Here in South Florida, look for the film in the Miami area at the Tower Theater, and at the Movies of Delray and Movies of Lake Worth, and at the Lake Worth Playhouse. Click here to find locations of other theaters nationwide.

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