On the heels of the celebrated documentary “RBG” comes this dramatization of the early years of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s legal career. Decades before becoming Supreme Court Justice, Ginsburg was a young wife and mother and an aspiring attorney. From those beginnings to the iconic status she enjoys today, she’s been able to teach and lead generations seeking change and equality.
In “On the Basis of Sex”, Oscar nominee Felicity Jones (“The Theory of Everything” ) stars as Ginsburg. She’s mesmerizing from gavel to gavel in one of the top biopics of 2018.
Director Mimi Leder and writer Daniel Stiepleman cover a lot of ground. The story begins in the mid-50s. Both Ginsburg and husband Marty (Armie Hammer) are attending Harvard Law School. They’re also juggling home life, including raising young daughter Jane. A health scare forces Ruth to attend Marty’s classes as well. She tutors him, while, at the same time, rising to the top of her class.
However, a law degree for a woman at this time didn’t guarantee anything. Following a move to NYC for Marty’s career, Ruth can’t get a job at any firm, so she takes a position as a law professor at Rutgers University. It’s now the 70s – and the world is changing. The Women’s Liberation movement is growing. Ruth considers herself a pioneer in fighting sexual discrimination. The problem is she’s teaching – it not leading it. This internal conflict is motivation for a personal change – and it’s at the heart of “On the Basis of Sex”.
A case involving gender discrimination – against a man – gets Ginsburg’s attention. This sets her on a historic path that would eventually change the way men and woman are treated under the law. It would also light the fuse that would result in RBG becoming one of the most prominent figures in our nation’s history.
All of this makes “On the Basis of Sex” fascinating, compelling and timely. Many Americans are aware of Point A and Point B when it comes to Ginsburg and her fight for gender equality. But how exactly did she (and we) get there? Stiepleman’s debut screenplay includes a fair amount of legal jargon and references to other cases, though it never becomes too overwhelming. The common themes and goals stay clear and understandable. There’s also a nice subplot relationship between Ruth and Jane that most parents will identify with. It helps keep the story grounded.
“On the Basis of Sex” is a movie about a woman disrupting a man’s world in the name of fairness. Jones’ performance captures Ginsburg’s tenacity and passion vividly. Often speeches delivered by main characters in movies come-off as forced and preachy. But here, thanks to Jones’ sincerity and vulnerability, they are appropriate and genuine.
This is also the best work we’ve seen from Hammer. He perfectly balances the role of supportive husband/father with ambitious, successful lawyer. The rest of the cast is packed with headliners: Sam Waterston, Stephen Root, Justin Theroux and Kathy Bates, in a minor but pivotal role.
In a time when the issues of women’s rights and sexual discrimination are more relevant than ever, this is a supportive, motivating movie… and an undeniable crowd-pleaser.