For decades, Dr. Ruth Westheimer stood at the forefront of sex education in the United States. Whether as a scholar or later as a public figure, Westheimer believed that knowledge was power, which she still does to this day. At 90 years old, she remains a spark plug and voice on sex positivity. The new documentary Ask Dr. Ruth explores how and why she found herself in that position. Currently in theaters on a limited basis and soon headed to a long term home with Hulu, it’s a doc that entertains while always informing. As far as non fiction cinema goes, it’s hard to smile as much as you will during this one, even if it occasionally goes to some tragic places.
The film is a look at Ruth Westheimer, the tiny woman who would come to be known as America’s sex therapist. In many ways, she’s an integral part of the sexual revolution. The documentary paints a picture of her incredible life, from being a Holocaust survivor, losing her parents, and eventually coming to America and getting to the top of her field. We spend time with Westheimer as we come to understand how “Dr. Ruth” came to be. The impetus is the approaching date of her 90th birthday, which causes her to reflect on the pain of her past, as well as her career. Ryan White is in the director’s chair for this movie, capturing Westheimer in all her glory.
This documentary is a ton of fun, though it does have tragedy involved too, when dealing with how the Holocaust took a toll on Westheimer and her family. Those moments give the audience some perspective on just what she went through as a young woman. The fact that she’s even alive is worth celebrating, let alone the life that she’s built for herself and her family. When you see the affable way she discusses frank sexual topics, she’s clearly operating in territory that few would be comfortable navigating. It’s to her credit that she’s at ease doing this, while it’s just as much to the benefit of society that this became her life’s work.
Time spent with Dr. Ruth Westheimer is not just enjoyable, but essential. She has made the world a better place, without question. It’s fascinating to see and hear her talk about how she never discusses politics, while also witnessing first hand how she made the case for a more open dealing with sexuality. No more prevalent is that then when speaking about the AIDS crisis and the issue of abortion. We see pictures of Dr. Ruth with Presidents from both political parties, but when she urges the public to take an enlightened stance on these issues, she isn’t hiding what she feels is the correct and moral way to handle things. The doc truly comes alive in those moments.
Now in theaters, Ask Dr. Ruth is the sort of documentary that can be viewed in almost any situation. Whether it’s during its current theatrical run or when it comes to Hulu to stream in a month, it’s well worth watching. One doesn’t have to be a prior fan of Westheimer’s to enjoy this, though after watching it, it’ll be hard not to believe that Dr. Ruth is a bit of an American saint. The good she’s done for people is impossible to argue with, even if the more puritanical may take issue. Regardless, this is one of the year’s better docs, plain and simple. Give it a shot and see what you think…
Be sure to check out Ask Dr. Ruth, in theaters now and coming to Hulu in June!