By People Staff
December 16, 1996 12:00 PM

Laura Dern, Swoosie Kurtz, Mary Kay Place, Burt Reynolds, Tippi Hedren

Ruth Stoops (Dern) won’t be winning a model citizen award anytime soon. She’s a vagrant in Omaha who sniffs glue and any other inhalant she can find, drinks too much and has four kids she never sees. Now she’s pregnant again, with no idea who the father is and no plans beyond getting high again—pronto. After cops find her passed out from whiffing patio sealant, she is charged with criminal endangerment of her fetus. But a judge tells her he’ll drop the charge if she gets an abortion. At which point the clueless Ruth becomes the prize pawn in a rancorous public battle between pro-life and pro-choice fanatics, with each side eager to hail her as its own.

Whatever one’s own take on abortion, Citizen Ruth is a satire that savagely skewers zealots in both camps. Although the movie would have benefited from pruning, director and cowriter Alexander Payne’s debut film hits more often than it misses. Dern is flawless as its skanky, dim-bulb heroine; she’ll have you rooting for her even as she chugs cleaning fluid. Other characters, including Place and Kurtz as rival leaders of local pro-life and pro-choice groups, and Reynolds and Hedren as their national counterparts, are more broadly drawn and therefore less effective. Also turning up is Dern’s real-life mom, Diane Ladd, who, playing her movie mom, demands, “What if I had aborted you?” Dern’s reply, though unprintable, is a ribald ripsnorter. (R)