Ask Dr. Ruth (2019)
We’re in a new golden age for mass-appeal documentary film. Movies like Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, RBG, Free Solo and Minding the Gap set records and won acclaim in the last couple years, and Ask Dr. Ruth is of a piece with the rest of them — the story of the famously feisty, diminutive therapist who taught America in the 1980s how to talk about sex with unflinching and enthusiastic candor. As her 90th birthday approaches, the film explores her beginnings from her early radio show, “Sexually Speaking,” which became a surprise hit, to her TV appearances and series that made her a cultural touchstone. She was a radical in her own way — in the midst of the AIDS crisis, she refused to dehumanize homosexuality; she got Arsenio Hall to say the word “vagina” on television.
But Dr. Ruth’s public life is, in many ways, the least interesting piece of her story. Karola Ruth Siegel, was born in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1928 and was delivered to an orphanage in Switzerland to escape the Nazis. The viewer confronts Ruth’s growing realization that she may never see her parents again, and follows the good doctor as she visits her first boyfriend (whom she met at the orphanage) and tours the World Holocaust Remembrance Center. A loving and intimate portrait of a sociological titan, Ask Dr. Ruth reveals the pain and complexity behind a face we all know.