Citizen Ruth (1996)


Starring: Laura Dern, Swoosie Kurtz, Kurtwood Smith
Director: Alexander Payne

Rating: R

Studio: Miramax Films

Review Posted: 3.31.03

Spoilers: Minor


Reviewed by Dennis Landmann




Ruth Stoops (Laura Dern) is a poor indigent drug-user (a huffer - inhaling glue and paint for a high) whose down-and-out existence is complicated once more by becoming pregnant (she has had and lost four children already). When a judge orders that she gets an abortion or face a felony charge, she is befriended by Gail Stoney, a pro-lifer whose husband is president of the local "Babysavers" group. Suddenly Ruth is thrust into the middle of the pro-choice/pro-life struggle of abortion, with each side wanting her to take their side as a "message" to others - and the situation escalates.




Citizen Ruth is a hard film to categorize. Itís a comedy for sure, yet itís also a social commentary. It could even pass as a semi-serious drama. To do without these categories when talking about this film is probably a good idea, because Citizen Ruth is outrageous.


Co-written and directed by Alexander Payne (Election, About Schmidt), Citizen Ruth tells its story straight and doesnít shy away from anything. The mix of characters is the essential ingredient that makes this film stand out. Whether a character is dirty, ugly, or mean, Citizen Ruth doesnít care. Its message, which concerns abortion, is very much provocative and indicative of the kind of blatant people who exist. The writing of Payne and co-writer Jim Taylor allows for some pretty strange, yet provocative performances by lead actress Laura Dern, supporting players Swoosie Kurtz, Kurtwood Smith, Mary Kay Place, M.C. Gainey, and Burt Reynolds.


Even though Citizen Ruth tends to drag on and on in some spots, and fails to make Ruth Stoops at least a little likeable, or more humane at least, itís basically a dramedy dealing with everyday idiosyncrasies and how the belief or disbelief for a particular cause paints an unusual picture of the average person.


7 out of 10


The Video


I noticed quite a few scenes containing grainy spots and minor scratches. Presented in widescreen format (1.85:1) and enhanced for 16x9 televisions, Citizen Ruth offers only a decent picture quality. I didnít expect much, but the transfer is as fair as it is going to get.


7 out of 10


The Audio


The Dolby Digital Surround Sound available on this disc is fairly decent. It really doesnít make a difference on the viewing experience. Much of the sound is emitted from the front speakers and is very distant and almost non-existent in the rear speakers. Citizen Ruth is also available in a French language track.


7 out of 10


The Extras

  • Audio Commentary by Alexander Payne, Co-Writer Jim Taylor, Actress Laura Dern and Production Designer Jane Ann Stewart

  • Theatrical Trailer

3 out of 10




Citizen Ruth is a very different kind of comedy. It incorporates a little drama and social commentary to combine to what I would call a decent dramedy. Fueled by an outrageous performance by Laura Dern and an entertaining commentary track, Citizen Ruth is a DVD you might want to "consider" renting or buying (if youíre a fan of this type of comedy or writer/director team).


Overall DVD Rating: 5 out of 10




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