Ryan White’s sweetly adroit slice of a life, “Ask Dr. Ruth” glides genially on the charm of diminutive nonagenarian sex therapist Ruth Westheimer, lilting German accent intact, public service still first and foremost for her, memories of surviving the Holocaust readily tapped.
There are further depths to draw from her inventive, wildly subversive, plain-sense mind, which she has shared for over fifty years, but White does journeyman’s work in conveying her remarkable life in a feature’s length. Inserting necessary sexual conversations into the dull roar of Reagan’s time, she got away with much because of her readily caricatured persona as a chipper, effusive four-foot-seven woman of a certain age. Yet she’s always been as serious as serious can be. Westheimer’s boisterous, untamable vigor and curiosity and simple sunniness are a tonic even before getting down to the brass tacks of her work. It’s fair to assume she still holds many secrets, but those she reveals are touching, and a journey she makes to find the fate of her family is moving. Archival material is plentiful, crisp montages multiply and there’s a boatload of so-so animation to move things along. The business of capturing joy, and heroes, is necessary, and “Ask Dr. Ruth” succeeds in conveying both. (I adore the moment she says, “This is a stupid question!”) 100m. (Ray Pride)
“Ask Dr. Ruth” opens Friday, May 3 at Landmark Century.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His multimedia history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” will be published later this year.