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film review

Ask Dr. Ruth chronicles the life of Dr. Ruth Westheimer, a Holocaust survivor who became America's most famous sex therapist.Mongrel Media

  • Ask Dr. Ruth
  • Directed by Ryan White
  • Featuring Ruth Westheimer
  • Classification N/A
  • 100 minutes

Rating:

3 out of 4 stars

Director Ryan White’s documentary depicts Dr. Ruth as a lovable every-granny – if your grandmother was a celebrity sex therapist not shy around STIs, vibrators and porn.

The 90-year-old nibbles on sweets in the same modest Washington Heights apartment where she’s lived for 50 years, beats her grandkids at cards and force-feeds the director snacks, nagging him to call his family. The film traces Dr. Ruth’s unlikely rise as America’s de facto sex-ed teacher, with White combining deliciously cheesy eighties footage from Dr. Ruth’s heyday on the late-night TV circuit with more revelatory family archives.

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Less seamless is the introduction of animated sequences to transport viewers back to Dr. Ruth’s distressing childhood; at 10, she was orphaned in Switzerland, her parents killed in the Holocaust. Crucially, Ask Dr. Ruth shows us a renegade ahead of her time. As a single mother in the 1950s, she put education and career before her marriages (three of them), later juggling film cameos, shampoo commercials and a board-game franchise with lecture stints at Princeton and Yale, never shrinking back from talking through our most intimate interactions. Lovable, but tough.

Ask Dr. Ruth opens May 17 in Toronto and Vancouver.

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