Director Mimi Leder provides a biopic on Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in “On The Basis Of Sex.” The movie is worth a view even if it is nothing very special.
Felicity Jones plays Ginsburg capably, even if her British accent keeps intruding into her performance. If Jones raises her voice in a debate with her daughter, all I’m hearing is Jyn Erso from “Star Wars.”
Leder’s film opens in 1956 as Ginsburg is depicted dressed in blue as a lone woman walking the campus of Harvard among a sea of male law students dressed in black. I’ve seen symbolism like that before. Nothing inventive here. From there, we learn she is entering the school as of one of nine women in the student body.
Ginsburg is married to fellow law student sophomore, Martin Ginsburg, played by Armie Hammer. I’m convinced if a film takes place at Harvard, Armie Hammer is going to be cast. He’s become a poster boy for the institution. When Martin is diagnosed with testicular cancer, Ruth accepts the challenge of not only attending her classes but Martin’s as well so he does not fall behind. Ruth then requests to finish her law degree at Columbia University to be with her husband. This is her first challenge as she is denied the request and its apparent because she is simply a woman. She perseveres and goes anyway. From there, Leder depicts a setting where even if you are at the top of your class at both Harvard and Columbia, if you are a woman, a mother and Jewish, then there is no job available to you as an attorney. Therefore, Ruth must settle for being a law professor.
The film jumps to 1970. Ruth’s daughter, Jane played by Cailee Spainee is a preteen ably ready to debate with her mother about the merits of Atticus Finch while Ruth continues to fall second to the male population mostly reliant on laws seem directed in preference to men over women. Don’t be too hard on our forefathers. Times have changed! Eventually, Martin introduces a case that would be perfect for Ruth to champion. An unwed man is denied a tax deduction for nursing expenses for his elderly mother. Had he been married or divorced or widowed or even if he’d been a woman, then the deduction would qualify. After all, single adult men should be out hobnobbing and earning a wage, or fighting in a war. So, if we can’t convince our lawmakers that a woman deserves the same equal rights as man, how would it appear if men were not entitled to certain rights equally? The case makes its way to the Supreme Court as Martin and Ruth team up for the cause.
All of this very inspiring and really should be seen by young students to open their minds to what they as people and American citizens are entitled to. However, I worry that if I were to show this film to my daughter, for example, she’d just get bored. Yes. You have to stick to the facts of the story and how it all played but the case that Ruth represents is kind of stale I’m afraid. If I, as a banker by day, find this case uninteresting, what should I expect of other adults and young viewers alike.
As well, Leder and screenwriter, Daniel Stiepleman (Ruth’s real life nephew), portray the opposition as tough minded, stubborn and bullish. Stiepleman might have been pushing this portrayal a little too far though. Were these great minds of debate and justice really this foolhardy and mean, or is this all for cinematic effect?
Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a hero because she’s an agent of change. Many of our current laws and those that continue to be updated must be credited to her efforts. The film primarily focuses on this one case which blazed the trail for her legacy to come. I would have rather have seen the legacy though. I bet that is much more exciting than listening to an exchange of tax law between Martin and Ruth. It just doesn’t make for good movie material and admittedly I got lost in some of the legal jargon speak. What happened exactly?!?! What now!?!?!
Jane and Ruth’s relationship kind of plays like an afterschool special. Jane did follow in her mother’s footsteps but it came off kind of hokey to me how Jane eventually participates in Ruth and Martin’s legal team. Still, this is a device that can attract young students to the material. I just think it’s kind of cheesy. There was better adult/kid chemistry and writing in “Iron Man 3” for example.
Kathy Bates and Justin Theroux were kind of distracting to me as individuals who allied with Ruth. They are larger than life in this film and really they shouldn’t be. This film is about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, no one else.
“On The Basis Of Sex” won’t put you to sleep. I learned about Ginsburg’s beginnings a little bit. So I’m grateful for that but as far as entertainment and insight, I’d turn to another source. Perhaps, I will seek out the 2018 Oscar nominated documentary “RBG” that is gaining massive positive response. I expect I’ll take away more from that film than just a dried up tax case that’s detailed over two hours.