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On the Basis of Sex - 2018

On the Basis of Sex - 2018

Director(s): Mimi Leder

Writer(s): Daniel Stiepleman

Cinematography by: Michelle Tesoro

Editor(s): Marshall Harvey

Cast: Felicity Jones, Armie Hammer, Justin Theroux, Sam Waterston, Kathy Bates and Cailee Spaeny


Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been part of the Zeitgeist for decades now; however, RBG has seen a rise in fame with the younger generation (rightfully so), in 2018. With the release of the critically acclaimed documentary RBG and the conversation around her position in the Supreme Court and her health, it's hard to find someone that doesn't have a passing knowledge of Justice Ginsburg today. So it is not surprising that Hollywood would greenlight a fictional retelling of one of her most significant accomplishments; having successfully appeal a court ruling on the basis of sex. This appeal would later create a domino effect, that toppled down most if not all laws that differentiate between man and women.

The story tracks the early years of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Jones). We see her be one of the few women to attend Harvard Law School, teach law at Rutgers Law School and be a wife and mother. Ruth is faced with multiple obstacles along the way; balancing motherhood with school, her husband, Martin Ginsburg (Hammer) battle with testicular cancer, not finding a job due to her gender and trying to build a case against decades of discrimination as her first court trial. This is the screenplay debut of Daniel Stiepleman (nephew of RBG), and he managed to squeeze in a lot of his aunt's life within the runtime. I liked the way he depicted the Ginsburg's relationship, trusting and empowering each other always pushing the other to do better. Her challenging relationship with her daughter is portrayed well and showcases the way a mother can help her daughter grow and become a better version of what she is. And the court scenes are compelling and well written, following the court drama model to the tee.


My biggest critique is the flow of the story, as it jumps in time right at the climax of her roadblocks. Martin is diagnosed with cancer, two scenes later we jump to him walking about having beaten the odds. Harvard doesn't want to recognize her transfer to Columbia, cut to her graduated looking for a job. While I understand that we needed to move quickly to the crux of the story, the trial, it did deflate my interest at times. Once we are in the third act I was fully invested - I just felt the script cheated the roadblocks a little.

Mimi Leder did a great job behind the camera. My favorite scene comes right at the beginning.  The film opens with a sea of men, all in suits, walking in the streets and the sidewalks. The song "10,000 Men of Harvard" blasting in the background, and we get a glimpse of RBG among the sea. She is slowly revealed, and we follow her as she walks up the steps of Harvard with her head held high to start her first year of law. This sequence sets up the entire theme of the film and flawlessly introduces our protagonist.


On the Basis of Sex is a good straight forward look at one of the crowning achievements in the life of one of the most influential figures of the judicial system. It is inspirational and tugs at the heartstrings. Jones and Hammer have good chemistry, and I bought into their portrayals of their real-life inspirations. While I will gravitate towards the documentary as the "go to" RBG film to watch, it is not a bad time at the theater. RBG’s story is why I love movies.


On the Basis of Sex is Glass Half Full.

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