On the Basis of Sex doesn't do justice to Ruth Bader Ginsburg

by James Robins / 06 February, 2019
RelatedArticlesModule - On the basis of sex movie rbg

A new biopic of US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the moderate view of a woman who had no time for moderation.

If there was anything worth salvaging from RBG, the documentary about US Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg released late last year, it was in the retelling of her time as head of the American Civil Liberties Union’s women’s rights project in the 1970s. A run of cases brought Ginsburg before the highest courts in the land, arguing for an end to laws that discriminated “on the basis of sex”.

Mimi Leder’s competent yet formulaic biopic explores precisely that period. Felicity Jones plays Ginsburg as suitably self-assured and determined, though one might wonder where that infamous Brooklyn snarl went. Presumably, the same place she left her signature windowpane spectacles.

Standing stolidly by her side (when not doing duties in the kitchen) is husband Marty, amiably performed by Armie Hammer, and by all accounts their marriage was just as sunlit, doting, and, more importantly, equal as it appears here.

What really blights On the Basis of Sex – which was written by Ginsburg’s nephew, Daniel Stiepleman – is not its spirit or conviction, which are admirable, but its lack of imagination. The film runs through the regular motions of this sort of biography, structured with a series of convenient epiphanies and eureka moments. There is, inevitably, a montage and a courtroom culmination set to soaring strings. This is the moderate view of a woman who had no time for moderation.

IN CINEMAS FROM FEBRUARY 7

★★★

Video: Focus Features

This article was first published in the February 9, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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