I don't know if you've ever been asked to review a documentary on a 90-year-old war survivor and trained sniper who also happened to become America's greatest TV sex therapist - but let me assure you, when it happens... it's unexpected.
What's even more unexpected? This being one of the singularly most enjoyable, entertaining, emotional and personal documentaries I have ever had the pleasure to watch.
Dr Ruth Westheimer is a walking enigma. She is delightful in demeanour, with fast-paced humour, charisma and wisdom preceding education and experience. More importantly, she possesses a rare gift of emotional intelligence that captured the heart of a nation through many years of giving advice on radio and television. Dr Ruth is a champion for sexual health and experimentation, abortion rights, HIV awareness and treatment, as well as encouraging self-discovery. The documentary 'Ask Dr Ruth' charters her courage to discover her calling and place in the world through a lifetime of unique stories - a defining life chapter being the Holocaust.
Director Ryan White cleverly cements this life work with her upcoming 90th birthday party. With festivities high for the coming party, Dr Ruth embraces her vulnerability to reveal intimate memories and share the life journey that led her to where she is now. What makes this film so great? It perfects the balance between moments of education, light-heartedness, thought-provokingness and yes, at some points, sadness. It's so wonderful to sit and acknowledge the hardships this woman has had to face and the people she has fought for. Her recognition is long overdue, and White really gives you the opportunity to recognise and cheer for all that she is.
What's even more refreshing is that Dr Ruth is a real heroine, a real person - reflecting great values, leadership and bravery. She's inspirational, and so is her story. It was so nice to be encouraged to think about the meaning of purpose, and how our circumstances do not define our capabilities. If anything, this is a success story - but it portrays success through good deeds, an excellent moral compass, a little quick wit and drive.
At times, the storytelling is a little naïve with its use of animation and heavy American voiceovers in place of a German woman with a German accent - but that's to be expected when not all chapters of Dr Ruth's life can be aided with visual elements.
Overcoming adversity, finding direction, contributing to something greater and larger than ourselves, and championing a cause for others, Dr Ruth is so much more than just a 90-year-old with the big balls to talk about sex.
This story is new. It's quirky, unique, interesting, and still relevant today. Sexuality is still being questioned, discussed and politicised; what's abundantly clear is Dr Ruth has been fighting the good fight for a very long time, and this documentary solidifies not only how far we have come, but how far we still have to go. This documentary holds us accountable for sex education and embracing progressive values of understanding each other and our bodies. Dr Ruth gives us permission not to be embarrassed, to ask the questions we all have on our mind, and she gives us the grace to be curious and discover ourselves and others - as she always has done.
As so often happens when you research a film, I stumbled upon comments made. Comments outlining how great it is to have a grandma talk about sex, or how White gave us a rose-tinted version of Dr Ruth's life. This story really isn't about that. It's about progression in all circles of life. Overcoming adversity, finding direction, contributing to something greater and larger than ourselves, and championing a cause for others, Dr Ruth is so much more than just a 90-year-old with the big balls to talk about sex. In a climate where the rights of the individual often trump the needs of the village, this film really does equip society with the story of a strong woman who finally gains recognition for her long service to society. With attentive ears, honest words and grace in her heart, Dr Ruth accepted us and our bodies, before we even could. Go and give this woman the support she deserves.