Sundance Film Review: ‘Ask Dr. Ruth’ is a Prescription for Oscar Gold

A still from Ask Dr. Ruth by Ryan White, an official selection of the Documentary Premieres Program at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by David Paul Jacobson All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or 'Courtesy of Sundance Institute.' Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

2019 Sundance Film Festival: The most known thing about Dr. Ruth Westheimer is that she is a sex therapist. That also happens to be the least interesting thing about her. This is without a doubt a bold claim to make, but it’s 100% accurate. After seeing “Ask Dr. Ruth” you will whole-heartedly agree. The 90 and a half-year-old (she is the first to include the ‘half’) has spent the better part of four decades teaching the world how to have sex. She will spend the better part of 2019 making a case for an Oscar on her shelf.

“Ask Dr. Ruth” made its premiere on the snowy slopes of Sundance. It covers the life of a woman who is in every sense of the word triumphant. The film has one of the most delightful openings to any doc. ADR grabs a hold of your heart and injects joy and playfulness in the first scene. “Alexa, will I get a boyfriend,” asks the impossibly small Dr. Ruth to the Amazon based virtual assistant. That’s how the documentary starts.

In the course of the next few minutes, you will see Dr. Ruth balance phone calls, teach college, and command hallways. It’s a side of the doctor that you may be used to seeing. She goes and goes, and will outpace a caffeinated Energizer Bunny after a nap. But, you don’t know the half of her. Scratch that, you don’t know nine-tenths of her.

The film showcases some of her sweetness, her optimism, and her frankness. It also probes into the weighted sadness that is her past. Having been separated from her parents and shuttled from Germany to Switzerland at the age of 10, a young Ruth knew at an early age education was key. At the time she knew little of where her parents were or why they weren’t together. Letters that came with some frequency from her mother suddenly stopped – no explanation given. It wouldn’t be until just recently, as in months ago, that Dr. Ruth would come to know definitively of her parent’s death. She would learn that her father was killed at Auschwitz in 1942 and her mother, well, just that she was dead, no further info was given.

Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by David Paul Jacobson

Ruth would be on the move from one country to another. She would find herself in the middle of yet another war. This time in the middles of the Palestine crisis and would even become a sniper for the Jewish Underground Army. No, that last sentence was not a typo.

Ruth would go on to accomplish as much as she would suffer. She would survive a bombing that almost took her feet. She would marry only to divorce twice. It would be her third marriage that would keep.

Dr. Ruth goes well beyond a radio show at 30 Rock, way past a board game, and so far from being a single mother in a country where she spoke no English. We can take any number of things away from this extraordinary life. But, if it is just one, let it be perseverance.

“Ask Dr. Ruth” is without a doubt one of the most needed documentaries to come out of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. This woman who once was put on a bookshelf is certainly doing to her best to make sure she gets a little gold man on hers at home. If she has anything to say about it, and we are sure she does.

“Ask Dr. Ruth” is being distributed by both HULU online and will be released in theaters by Magnolia Pictures.

GRADE: (★★★★)

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