- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 25, 2006

Monsieur Netflix recently loaned me a copy of Alexander Payne’s first movie “Citizen Ruth.” Not a great movie — though certainly a promise of betterefforts to come.

Anyway, it stars Laura Dern as the titular “Ruth,” a perennial ne’er-do-well inhalant abuser who needs a crash course in responsible family planning. The first act plunks Ruth in the care of a conservative Midwestern Christian household (pro-abortion zealots come in for caricature in the second act), and one of the things I noticed there is Payne’s evident disgust at the sight of meat and poultry. Close-ups of a bird on a platter or eggs in the frying pan are supposed to induce gags — or at the very least score a few lifestyle laughs at the expense of Gun-Toting Republican Meat-Eaters.

Then I remembered Payne striking the same note toward the end of “Sideways,” when Miles and Jack go to a tacky steakhouse and are waited on by a zaftig waitress who remembers Jack from his days as a soap-opera star. Again, red meat — as well as a giant stuffed buffalo — is a sort of a cultural cue to the audience.

During an interview for “The Hours,” director Stephen Daldry once told me that the preparation of food — the cracking of eggshells or the pounding of meat — was a great way to build up rhythm for a scene. But with Payne there’s unmistakably a gut-level revulsion at work.

So what gives? Is Payne a vegetarian as well as a heartland patronizer?

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