Februrary 7, 2013
Laura Dern, Swoosie
Kurtz, and Kurtwood Smith
One Bad Mother
Okay, now we're talking. Citizen Ruth is
without a doubt one of the twenty movies I was most excited to write
about, and is easily one of the biggest undiscovered gems on this
entire countdown. Because there is almost NOBODY out there
who has ever seen it before. It is one of those really good
movies that has just been sitting out there for nearly twenty years,
just waiting to be discovered, and for a long time the only way you
would ever even stumble across it was if you saw the cover of the DVD
in a video store.
Well guess what? Not too long ago video stores kind of went
away. And because of that there has been almost no chance for
people to randomly stumble across an undiscovered gem like Citizen Ruth
anymore. The only way a movie like this can possibly find a
fan base these days is when people like me write about it and pimp it
out over the internet.
So that is exactly what I am doing. Go find Citizen Ruth.
This is without a doubt one of those movies that pretty much
every person on Earth should see at least once before they die.
It is, uh, well it is that memorable.
Citizen Ruth is the story of a white trash paint huffer named Ruth
Ruth is not what you would call a likable character. She is
not what you would call a positive character. She is
not what you would call an attractive character. Heck, she is
barely what you would even be able to call a functioning adult.
She basically exists solely to walk around the streets of
Omaha, Nebraska and get drunk. And huff paint. And
puke on cars and pass out in the middle of the street.
Long story short, Ruth is kind of a mess.
Our hero in her usual state, splayed and passed out against a wall
Ruth is played by Laura Dern and is, without a doubt, one of the
bravest performances I have ever seen by an A level actress in a
mainstream movie. Because like I said, Ruth is one fucking
ugly character. She has NO redeeming qualities whatsoever.
Pretty much the entire movie she is either drunk, or high, or
passed out on the ground, or puking. I have never
seen a movie where the director went out of his way to make his leading
lady look this bad. But that is exactly what Alexander Payne
does with Laura Dern, and she just absolutely goes with it.
This is the kind of performance that should have won her some
kind of an award.
By the way, what is particularly funny is to watch Citizen Ruth back to
back with Jurassic Park. Watch Laura Dern being all competent
and smart and sweet in one movie, and then watch her play Drunky
McDrunksington in the other. It is quite an experience.
You never quite realize how tall and gangly Laura Dern really
is until you see the many creative ways that Alexander
Payne shows her passed out and splayed somewhere.
I love this picture. Let's see Miss Meryl Streep play that
Okay so anyway, back to the movie.
Like I said, Ruth is pretty much the worst human being ever.
She is constantly being arrested for being drunk, or being
high, or for being passed out on somebody's lawn. She has no
place to live. She has no education. She just sort
of wanders around the streets of Omaha and gets by on whatever food she
can scrounge out of the dumpster.
Oh, and then there is the worst part.
She is constantly getting herself pregnant because she is presumably
trading her body for drugs.
Ruth being arrested yet again for being drunk and disorderly
Well this where the story of Ruth Stoops turns into a movie.
And it happens to be a very ballsy movie.
Ruth has been arrested for the umpteenth time, and she wanders into
court, and the judge finds out that she is pregnant. Again.
Like she always is. And since he is tired of seeing
her in his courtroom week after week after week, and since he is tired
of seeing her give birth and the state always having to pay for the
adoptions, he decides that this time he is going to make an example out
He tells Ruth that instead of being charged for public intoxication,
this time he is going to charge her with a felony. This time
he is going to charge her with endangerment of a fetus.
Basically because he wants her locked up forever and to never
Ruth finding out that this time she is being charged with a felony
The judge tells Ruth that she has two options at this point.
She can either go to jail for a long time. Or she
can have an abortion. It is up to her.
And that's when this movie goes in a direction you will not believe.
Because that is when the Baby Savers get involved, and they adopt Ruth
as their cause
Yes, Citizen Ruth can only be described as "the abortion satire."
Yes, it is the abortion comedy. And probably the
only one that will ever be made.
The Baby Savers (aka the far Christian Right) hear about Ruth's story,
and they are outraged that a judge would demand that a pregnant woman
get an abortion. So they come to Omaha and they bail her out
of jail and they adopt her as their cause.
They let Ruth live in their homes, they put her story in the news, they
turn her into a national media figure, and they try to pretty her up so
that they can put her on TV.
The Baby Savers attempting to pretty her up
So that is the first half of the movie. The Baby Savers bail
Ruth out of jail, they attempt to turn her into a lightning rod that
the pro-life movement can all rally around, and meanwhile Ruth has no
idea who the fuck these people are or what they are trying to do.
All she cares about is that she is out of jail now and she
can go find more spray paint that she can get high with.
Also, Ruth is not a particularly sympathetic national media figure
Well needless to say, the minute that Ruth is adopted as a cause by the
far right, that is when the far left realizes what is going on.
So they spring into action and they attempt to sway Ruth over
to their side. Because two can play at the sympathetic
national figure game. The pro-choice zealots kidnap Ruth and
try to convince her that what she wants most in life is to have this
Ruth in the safe hands of the moon worshippers
And anyway, that is the movie. Ruth becomes a pawn in the age
old struggle between pro-choice and pro-life. And it gets
very heated. Pretty soon both the Baby Savers and the Pro
Choice Zealots are calling for National Media Alerts, and they are
flying in thousands of protesters and demonstrators and picketers, just
so one side can beat the other side when it comes to the fate of Baby
Tanya (which is what they have named Ruth's fetus).
Burt Reynolds and the Baby Savers protesting for the rights of Baby
As you can imagine, this is one of those movies that you just sort of
have to see in order to believe. It is unbelievably ballsy.
And it only could have been made by Alexander Payne.
It basically takes both sides of the abortion debate, and it
shows them both as complete hypocrites. All either
side cares about is that Ruth chooses their side so they can
win this round in the media. In fact at one point the pro
choice people tell Ruth that even though she has a choice in the
matter, she can't choose to keep the baby because that would be the
And again, meanwhile all Ruth cares about is the fact that she is out
of jail now and people are giving her money so she can go get fucked up.
Again, our hero
Like I said at the start of my review, Citizen Ruth is one of those
movies that you need to see at least once in your life. You
might like it, you might not like it, but man it is one ballsy little
movie. Starring a ballsy actress, and made by a ballsy
director, and about a subject that you really aren't supposed to make
comedies about. Yet Alexander Payne did it. He did
the exact same thing that he would later do in Election and About
Schmidt, he took a drama that is really serious and actually discusses
some very deep and important issues, and he somehow satirized it and
made you laugh at it.
Again, nobody else could have made this movie but him. This
is Alexander Payne's first movie and what a ballsy debut it was.
You can't beat the president of the Baby Savers shirtless and being
rubbed down by altar boys
Some say that Citizen Ruth is a movie that has something to offend
everyone. But I look at it the other way. I look it
as a movie that has something to amuse everyone. I mean, if
you have seen an Alexander Payne movie you know what to expect.
It is set in Nebraska. Most of the people are
unlikable. The music is quirky and goofy and fun.
Pretty much everyone in the story is a hypocrite.
It isn't my favorite of the Alexander Payne Nebraska trio (About
Schmidt is), but it is certainly right up there along with Election and
About Schmidt. You could basically watch all three movies in
a row and call them a trilogy. They are all the exact same
type of movie.
And again, like I said about Election, calling this a "comedy" is
really selling it short. Alexander Payne doesn't make
comedies. He makes awesome movies that often happen to be
I don't want to ruin the ending of this movie for you, but it has
always been one of my favorite endings of any movie ever.
Alexander Payne is so good at writing endings.
Because basically Ruth has no story arc. Watching
Ruth Stoops in action is like watching an episode of Seinfeld.
At no point in this movie does she grow, or learn, or change,
or even try to change. There is no hugging, there is no
learning, all she is a piece of street trash who just wants to get high
and huff paint. That is all she is and that is all she ever
will be. And it is funny watching everyone try to mold her to
be a part of their cause, when she really doesn't even care.
At a certain point all Ruth cares about is which side will
slip her the most cash under the table. That is the only way
she will decide which side of the abortion debate she is on.
Ruth seeing on the news that the Baby Savers will pay her $15,000 cash
to give birth to Baby Tanya
Like I said in my last review, Election was an awesome movie because it
was dark, because it was cynical, and because it pulled no punches in
making everyone in the story come off like a douche.
Well Citizen Ruth does the exact same thing. It is the exact
same type of movie.
At the end of the movie you actually find yourself rooting for a paint
huffing, drunk, passed out in the street junkie who would probably stab
you over a three dollar tube of model airplane glue. That is
our hero. And you actually find yourself rooting for her!
Again, nobody else could have made this movie but Alexander
Payne, and it is without question one of the top twenty movies that you
need to watch at least once on this countdown.
You might love it, you might hate it. But is a crime that
more people out there aren't aware of it.
Oh yeah, and I have to post this picture one last time because I have
always loved it.
The esteemed Dr. Ellie Sattler
favorite IMDB user reviews about Citizen Ruth:
gem - 3 October 2002
truly gratifying to see that Alexander Payne has really made a name for
himself in the art of film direction, having made nothing less than two
fantastic social satires. "Election" garnered him considerable praise
as will "About Schmidt," but in my mind, "Citizen Ruth" is the best.
It's not as funny as Election in the sense that there aren't the
moments that make your jaw drop in terms of the delightfully vicious
nature of the satire, but the script is just as thoughtful as it is
funny, and Payne did a remarkable job satirizing what, by most
accounts, is an "un-satirizable" subject. Laura Dern really deserved
some kind of award (you know the academy would never have the stones to
recognize a film such as this...) as her performance is both touching
and hysterical. Some said the film started off great and then didn't
really go anywhere, but I disagree. The final shot says it all with
respect to the direction of the story, and it really amazes me that
this film could be made without really taking a side on anything.
Ultimately, I was blindsided by the film's astute message, which was
not even about abortion itself, but the selfish nature of the two sides
arguing it. Payne will undoubtably move on to make compelling films in
the future that take advantage of higher budgets, etc., but "Citizen
Ruth" deserves a place amongst the best first features in any genre.
Fantastic - 6 July 2006
is something about Citizen Ruth that keeps me coming back to it. I must
have seen it 30 times and haven't tired of it yet. It is genuine and
the people are so amazingly real. It's almost as if some of my
neighbours seem just like the characters in the film. That says a lot
in my opinion. The Mid-west is a land that holds a special place in the
American psyche. I can literally count on my hands the number of films
that truly capture its spirit. Citizen Ruth is one of those films. From
scenes in the hardware store to large rear wheel drive Fords,
everything fits perfectly. This film captures a place called Omaha
which for better or worse Hollywood largely ignores. It also treats a
controversial topic like abortion in a thoughtful manner. Excellent
film. Highly recommended.
Underrated Gem - 16
the wake of the huge success "Sideways" is garnering lately, everyone
should look back at this incredible film from Alexander Payne, which
shows off everything he and writing partner Jim Taylor are best at- the
dark skewering of small-town America, rich with satire and heart. I had
seen all of Payne's films except this one, and although I really loved
all of them, this may be his most fully realized. This is probably
because his targets are hit exactly dead-on, and the absurdity of the
situations are in fact, achingly real. Laura Dern gives a wonderful and
unflinching portrayal of Ruth, and the rest of the cast, especially
Swoosie Kurtz, Mary Kay Place, and in a small role, Burt Reynolds, are
exceptional as the targets of Payne's satire. Payne fills his films
with little details of small-town life, and here they add so much to
the point of the story. Take for example the grace that Kurtwood
Smith's character gives, which is barely heard because of the roaring
plane overhead. It is these details that are the crux of a story like
this. So as "Sideways" continues to claim many awards (and rightfully
so), I urge you to check out this earlier film from Payne, and
experience a brilliant little film, and one of the gutsiest movies you
may ever see.
I ain't no f*cking
telegram, bitch! - 21 March 2008
I have seen Laura Dern in a few movies, but none that really showed her
ability as this one.
was an outrageously funny abortion satire and she really shined as the
huffer that gets pregnant and is the pawn of both sides in the fight
over a fetus. Both sides - pro-choice and anti-abortion - were made fun
of in this film. They were people that you would really not want to
Mary Kay Place is a "Baby Saver" that hasn't got a clue.
Her daughter is sneaking out at night, and her "righteous" husband is
just a letch. She takes in Ruth (Dern) and gets her to those so-called
counseling centers so they can work her over. Swoosie Kurtz rescues
her, but Ruth soon finds that the other side is just as bad. The
druggie and unfit mother soon scams them all in a very satisfactory
Dern plays a perfect white-trash Barbie that is out for
herself. She really gives a great performance as she switches from
booze to bathroom-cleaning fluid, and back to booze. Ruth is just out
for Ruth and she manages to take care of herself. She sees money as a
solution to all her problems, and Dern plays up her ignorance in a
manner that is well worth watching.
Burt Reynolds and Tippi
Hedren play the national leaders on both sides of the abortion war. It
really doesn't matter which side you are one, but you will definitely
be pro-Laura Dern after seeing this.
Watch this one more than
once! - 20 May 2004
you will see a movie that may take you some time to decide whether you
enjoyed it. By the second time you see it, you're better able to fully
appreciate the movie without becoming wrapped up in confusing or
disturbing plot elements. "Citizen Ruth" is one of the best examples of
this phenomenon I have ever seen. If you've seen it before, give it
another chance. If you have not, give yourself some time to reflect
after watching it. You will not be disappointed.
is the story of a woman, Ruth Stoops (Laura Dern could not have been a
better choice for this role), who has spent her difficult life making a
lot of bad choices. She is a quick-tempered, irresponsible but naive
junkie, who you can't help but root for. When she finds herself
pregnant yet again, with no intention of giving up the model airplane
glue and spray paint she regularly huffs, the judge makes it clear that
with all of her previous run-ins with the legal system, Ruth had better
"take care of the problem" or face serious charges.
local pro-life group, the Babysavers (Kurtwood Smith was another
excellent choice to play the leader of this group) catches wind of the
judge's comments, they set out to save Ruth and her unborn child. This,
of course, turns out in a hilariously disastrous way, when pro-choice
gets involved to even up the playing field. Ruth's naivete makes her
easy for both sides to manipulate, and neither pro-life nor pro-choice
winds up looking very good.
The ending to this movie is not, in
my opinion, as predictable as it seems, and it really gives you
something to think about - what is "life" and how much (both in
material and ethereal terms) is it worth, particularly when it's placed
in the hands of somebody who is in such poor control of her or his own?
Is it ethical to take advantage of somebody's lack of knowledge for
your own gain, or is it even okay to try to change somebody's mind? Is
Ruth Stoops a bad person, or just a misunderstood and desperate woman?
And what about her final choice?
This movie is worth a second look, and at a $3 rental fee, what do you
have to lose?
Shades of "Election",
"About Schmidt" and "Sideways" (even of Terri Schiavo) - 10 July 2007
what has got to be one of Laura Dern's most interesting roles, she
plays indigent drug addict Ruth Stoops, ordered to have an abortion at
the risk of damaging her unborn fetus. That's when she gets taken in by
a fundamentalist Christian, right-to-life family who starts using her
as a rallying call. But abortion rights activists also see Ruth as a
Like "Thank You for Smoking", "Citizen Ruth"
shows the hypocrisy of both sides in a controversial topic, as they
both want to use an individual for their own ends. This movie sort of
predicted what would happen to Terri Schiavo almost ten years in
advance. Moreover, director Alexander Payne shows the twisted
sensibility that he would later bring to "Election", "About Schmidt"
and "Sideways". You gotta agree with what Ruth does at the end.
Definitely one that I recommend.
Good - 22 November 1999
listening to the commentary for Election on DVD, Alexander Payne noted
things that are also on Citizen Ruth. With no hesitation, I went out
and rented Citizen Ruth and I'm glad I did. While not as good as
Election, Citizen Ruth is still a good film about the insanity of the
abortion debate. I couldn't believe how far it got outta hand for a
drug using, screwed up party animal. Both sides of the spectrum went
out of control trying to decide for Ruth what's best for her. And
believe other reviews, when they say the ending is rather sad. Payne is
to good of a director to let the movie trail away like that. While
waiting in line for the next Star Wars movie, I'll also wait in line
for the next movie from Alexander Payne, especially after movies like
this and Election.
favorite trivia about Citizen Ruth:
* The "ASK ME" pin worn by Kurtwood Smith in the hardware store shows
up again in Alexander Payne's following film, Election. It also shows
up on Dermot Mulroney in Alexander Payne's third film, About
* In the text of a newspaper article in the film Election, you can find
the following message: "If you've paused the film in order to read this
entire article, your time would be better spent renting Citizen Ruth
from your local video store. Do you know how hard it is to write these
fake few stories for newspaper movie props? I've got better things to
favorite scene in Citizen Ruth:
I gotta go with the ending. That was just perfect.
I wish I could spoil it for you but I won't.
Oh yeah, and there is one scene right towards the end of the movie
where Ruth grabs a megaphone and she screams something at her mother.
And everyone hears it on the news and gasps. That
is a personal favorite too. God bless Ruth Stoops and her
at the IMDB
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