Back in the 1980s and 90s, Ruth Westheimer became a household name with her radio and television shows talking candidly about sex and sexuality. Before that, though, she had a long, sometimes tragic and colorful life that eventually led many people to “Ask Dr. Ruth.”
I realized, after watching “Ask Dr. Ruth,” that I never actually listened to or watched any of her radio and TV shows. Sure, you could not avoid hearing and seeing the celebrity that the diminutive firecracker has had since her controversial debut on WYNY with radio call-in show “Sexually Speaking.” After that, she became an icon of sexual frankness and practicality and a real media maven with countless interviews, books and speaking tours – and going strong at 90.
Documentary director Ryan White rectifies my lack of knowledge about the smart and resourceful lady who turned human sexuality, for many, from the myths and misunderstandings to fact and realization. The film covers Dr. Ruth’s life as a child in Germany during the rise of Adolph Hitler and the coming Holocaust, the loss of her parents and her struggle to survive and thrive. These early days are shown through the use of animation to tell of her eventual journey to Palestine and America, losing her virginity along the way.
When not doting on the anime story of Ruth’s youth and her overcoming great obstacles, director White reverts to conventional talking head interviews and archival footage of her formation as a sex therapist and consultant. She has led, and still leads, an active and interesting life and her story is compelling enough, but not one that I was eager to know about, unlike, say, RBG and her life.
Without the copious animation, which I found distracting at times, there would have been a good 60 minute PBS show. I give it a C+.
Laura also gives "Ask Dr. Ruth" a C+ - while Westheimer is a great subject, the documentary is too weighted in her Holocaust experience and the animation which conveys it over her evolution and influence as a sex therapist. More balance and less animation would have made for a better documentary.
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