Ask Dr. Ruth – Review [Tribeca 2019]

Ask Dr. Ruth is playing at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival. Find screening information HERE.

By Rachel M.

Ask Dr. Ruth, a 100-minute long biography/documentary about the life of Dr. Ruth Westheimer as she approaches 91 years, premiered over the weekend at The Tribeca Film Festival. The film deftly mixes interviews, animation, archival footage and moments capturing Dr. Ruth in varied settings to provide a robust portrait of this unbelievable woman.

Born as Karola Ruth Siegel, in 1928 in Germany as the only child of Orthodox Jews, Dr. Ruth escaped the Holocaust as a child, because she was sent in a kinder transport to an orphanage in Switzerland. In the film she vividly describes her time there and her first love interest, who is still alive. We follow her through her move to Israel, her service in the Israeli Defence Forces and her eventual emigration to the United States in the 1950s. Her own experiences with love, sex, and loss have shaped the unique character we all know today. We learn about her two marriages and meet her two children, who are interviewed for the film (along with some of her grandchildren).

Dr. Ruth began her career in media as a radio personality in the 1980’s on “Sexually Speaking” after having returned to school to become a sex therapist. An unexpected hit, the show propelled Westheimer into an unlikely celebrity career, where she promoted a positive and transparent dialogue around sex and revolutionized the way people understood sexuality. With her tiny frame, thick German accent, and uninhibited approach to sex therapy and education, Dr. Ruth transformed the conversation around many aspects of sexuality.

Few know Westheimer’s own story and Ryan White’s (The Keepers, Good Ol’ Freda) bio-doc demonstrates Dr. Ruth’s charm and no-nonsense attitude to her life’s work, while also revealing a more personal side to the legendary sex therapist. Now approaching 91 and showing no signs of slowing down, Dr. Ruth reflects on her own painful past and unlikely path to stardom.

The film will be shown twice more this week as part of the festival and will then debut on Hulu on June 1.

I give Ask Dr. Ruth an A.