One of the most oft-repeated cliches of the pro choice movement is the line "men shouldn't have any say over abortion or a woman's body." Well, director Payne and his co-scenarist Jim Taylor have a LOT to say about abortion, women's bodies and the issues of individuals versus groupthink.
I loved this movie! Laura Dern is genuinely funny and quirky as the slow-witted Ruth Stoops, who finds herself at storm center as a judge convicts her of criminal negligence to her unborn fetus. However, out of court, he advises her to "take care of this problem," sotto voce telling her to get an abortion. Ruth doesn't really care; she just wants to find some Krylon or airplane glue to inhale.
Finding herself in jail, some Christian pro-lifers take her under their wing. Suddenly, she is no longer a rational actor whose free will determines the birth of her baby, but a pawn in a PR war between pro-life and pro-choice zealots. It is as if Ruth doesn't even exist as an individual, and is only important to these fanatics as a poster child for their respective causes.
What I most love about the characterisations of the activists is how Payne shows how removed they are from reality. The pro-lifers (Mary Kay Place and that guy from That 70s Show) are Christian evangelicals who won't even have a TV in their house, hold independent church services at their house and sing horrifyingly bad hymns like "Yes Jesus Loves Me, The Bible Tells Me So" (this hokum is probably the main reason people become atheists; whatever happened to church hymns by Bach or Cesar Franck?) Their clothes are right out of the Monkey Wards 1977 catalogue and they speak in that anti-intellectual sing-song style.
The pro-choicers are just as big a scream. Swoosie Kurtz plays a "double agent" who spends months undercover as a tacky Christian hick in order to kidnap one of the women whose pregnancy the pro-lifers intend to bring to term. Once she has Ruth at her house, the wig comes off and she becomes her real self, a somewhat butch lesbian with a bookish feminist lesbian lover. I love the scene when they sing a moon hymn to Gaia.
Eventually, this boils over into a national media circus, and we get a couple of campy cameos from Burt Reynolds as President of the Baby Savers and my own Hitchcock goddess, Tippi Hedren as the President of Pro-Choice.
Of course, Payne's message is the REAL pro-choice message, that the rights of individuals are what should be protected, not the groupthink of movement activists, whose lives would be empty without having a cause to blindly follow. This movie shows the ultimate disdain and disrespect such groups have for rational, individual choice and common sense. Payne's moral center of the movie is a Vietnam vet and biker who -- though a fervent pro-choicer -- sees through the zealotry of both sides and treats Ruth as an individual, and gives her the "tough love" she needs, instead of patronising her.
One of the things I like about this movie is that Payne presents us with _sincere_ activists, who make pretty good points for both sides. And that's where most Americans are; they're not _absolutely_ pro-life nor _absolutely_ pro-choice. But, reaching that point-of-view would take THOUGHT, which most rabid activists are incapable of.
I found this VHS (could not find DVD) is only available used, and is currently not in print. How sad! I hope Miramax is planning a new release. I have this movie on LaserDisc, and what a great introduction to Payne's ascerbic wit and keen visual sense that comes to full fruition in "Election."