“The word ‘woman’ does not appear even once in the U.S. Constitution.”
“Nor does the word freedom,” Ruth Bader Ginsburg retorts to an appeals court judge in “On the Basis of Sex,” a new film which details the inspiring career of the beloved Supreme Court Justice.
The Foghorn was able to attend an early screening of the show at The Castro Theatre on Nov. 10. The movie will be released on Christmas Day.
“On the Basis of Sex,” directed by Mimi Leder, is not a particularly flashy film. It tells the story of RBG with little pizzazz or extravagance, opting instead to follow a familiar, yet effective biopic formula. The film elaborates on the ordinary life of an extraordinary person, which makes the film more relatable, but at times damages its entertainment value.
Felicity Jones (“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”) stars as RBG, alongside Armie Hammer (“Call Me By Your Name”) as Martin Ginsburg, Ruth’s husband and co-counsel in the movie’s ultimate legal showdown. The two team up as lawyers on the case Moritz v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, and Martin ultimately sacrifices his oral talents to allow Ruth to deliver a rousing courtroom speech in defense of gender equality toward the end of the movie.
The film opens with a young RBG climbing the steps to Harvard Law School; her blue dress and heels immediately distinguish her from the sea of stiff-looking men in black suits. Leder uses visual moments like this throughout the movie to highlight RBG’s significance as both a woman in her field and as an advocate. The film does a great job of balancing Ginsburg’s legendary reputation and remarkable individual achievements with a broader message of gender equality.
The most interesting topic the film engages with is one of law versus action. RBG insists that laws are the most effective means of igniting change. Her daughter, Jane (Cailee Spaeny), holds the opposite view, believing that laws can only be debated so much until cultural change must be demanded by protest and action. Jane is in many ways the wisest character in the film; without her influence, the stubborn RBG would have little incentive to change or grow over the course of the movie.
“On the Basis of Sex” is a crowd-pleaser with a strong script and is bolstered by energetic performances from its lead actors. However, at times, the film is frustratingly unoriginal. There’s nothing very innovative about its cinematography, and it takes no risks in its depiction of a woman who spent her career taking countless risks.
Still, the film is overtly political and has no shame in it. In the era of Me Too, it’s timely and relevant. It’s a reminder that, though progress has been made toward gender equality, largely thanks to figures like RBG, we still have a long way to go in order to achieve equal rights between men and women.
“On the Basis of Sex” succeeds in honoring Justice Ginsburg and inspires the next generation to stand against the inequalities still present today.