Calling Dr. Love

Discover how Ruth Westheimer became Mr Rogers for sex

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Ask Dr. Ruth
RPL Film Theatre

July 6–7

There are few examples more clear-cut about the positive impact of immigration than Dr. Ruth Westheimer. The therapist broke new ground in the ’80s by talking bluntly about sex and, more importantly, furthering the understanding of female sexuality. Dr. Ruth also fostered AIDS prevention at the height of the crisis, and redefined “normal” by declaring it doesn’t exist.

The documentary Ask Dr. Ruth doesn’t reinvent the wheel or contain earth-shattering revelations (breaking news: Dr. Ruth is super nice), but it does a good job linking her harsh childhood with her drive to chase and spread knowledge.

Westheimer’s parents had the foresight to send her to Switzerland following Hitler’s rise to power. She survived the war, but her entire family perished in concentration camps. Suddenly an orphan, Ruth put her all in the pursuit of higher education, despite the fact she had no resources, no safety net or even a high school diploma.

Director Ryan White (The Case Against 8) mixes tales from growing up alone and curious with Dr. Ruth’s cultural impact. Sure, there are those talk shows that seem to invite her for shits and giggles (she’s 4’7 feet tall, is old and says “clitoris”!), but there’s also those who truly find her matter-of-fact discourse illuminating.

The film uses cartoons to fill in Westheimer’s origin story. Not the worst idea ever (or the most original), but I would have splurged on better animation. Some interesting information nuggets make up for it: The nonagenarian doesn’t think of herself as a feminist and avoids talking politics. It’s not hard to figure out where her preferences lie though: she worked for years at Planned Parenthood, is a staunch supporter of legal abortion and was at odds with the Reagan administration during the AIDS epidemic.

The moral of the story? When in doubt, look at Dr. Ruth for pointers.