Ruth Bader Ginsburg is one of the most legendary leaders of our generation. (And of our parents generation. And of their parents generation.) The 85 year old Supreme Court Justice that still inspires so many had to scratch and claw her way to success like many women have unfortunately had to do over the course of history. What makes someone like Ginsburg unique is the tenacity and drive she possessed and her determination to be heard and succeed. Her story is one full of sexism and unfair treatment, but it’s also one of inspiration, love, and revolution.
On the Basis of Sex is a biopic, and a pretty good one at that. It doesn’t bore the audience with the all the politics and court cases. On the contrary, it pulls them in and engages them with the material. As the title suggests, the plot focuses on a court case surrounding discrimination on the basis of sex. I thought this case would be about discrimination against a woman, but interestingly enough, it’s actually about a tax deduction not given to a male caregiver because he is a man. The Ginsburgs’ and the ACLU decide to take this case, hoping if and when they win, it could “topple the whole damn system of discrimination”. This court case and how it unfolds is what the majority of this film’s plot is made up of, which I feel was smart because it showcases Ginsburg’s character the best.
The pacing is nicely done, starting out with Ruth’s first day at Harvard Law and the early days in her marriage, then jumping years forward to pick up on the court case. There are two things in particular that I love about this timeline. One is that we get to see the great relationship Ruth has with her husband Martin and her relationship with her very strong willed daughter. Also, it allows us to see just how steeped society was in sexism back then, and the unbelievable ideas that permeated our culture. Both of these things are handled well, and not in a cheesy or overly ham fasted way. The chemistry between Ruth and Martin is so wonderful. I mean there are so many scenes between them where you can just feel the electric chemistry. And it’s not just the mild love scene between the two, but also the conversations they have. Martin Ginsburg is the husband everyone wants, so supportive and surprisingly progressive for the time period. Both Jones and Hammer should receive ample praise for their performances because they handle their characters well and make you root for them the whole way through. Justin Theroux is also good as Mel Wulf and plays him with a fitting passion.
The writing is good as well. The script isn’t the best in the world but it does draw attention to the social issues that plagued that period and gives the main characters the depth that’s needed. Some of the lines said by the antagonists may seem kind of stereotypical, but those are actual things that were said to Ginsburg in real life. I wish it was simply made up by a screenwriter but as I was watching the film and heard these lines, I recalled Ginsburg in an interview telling the stories of when these things were said to her. I love that they used these real examples from her life, as it makes things more impactful. I also really liked the costume design. It is fitting for the era and Jones’s outfits are particularly beautiful.
There weren’t a whole lot of things in this movie that turned me off. The largest aspect that I didn’t think worked all that well was Sam Waterson as Dean Griswold. Waterson is a talented actor and I have loved him in projects like Grace and Frankie and Miss Sloane, but he just came across kind of wooden in my opinion. I would have preferred to see more of Kathy Bates as Dorothy Kenyon. That’s another thing; I really liked Bates in her role and would have liked more screen time for her. That’s honestly it though, the rest of the film works pretty well. It’s true that it’s not the best biopic ever, but it does tell Ginsburg’s story in a moving way and showcases the relationships with her family well. Also, I won’t say what the final scene involves, but suffice to say it is amazing and is sure to move viewers.