Movie Review: On the Basis of Sex

Written by Daniel Stiepleman (RBG’s nephew) and directed by Mimi Leder, this biopic provides an intimate portrait of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s marriage, family life, and early career years.

Felicity Jones plays Ruth, and Armie Hammer takes on the role of her loving husband Marty. While some reviews have suggested that Jones was miscast in the leading role, I believe that she did an excellent job of portraying the tiny and tenacious woman who helped overturn a century of gender discrimination.

From the start, we are privy to the challenges Ruth encountered at Harvard Law School. Undaunted, she didn’t hesitate to snap at the law school dean, glare at male professors who didn’t call on her in class, and correct her fellow male students. She was the well-prepared student who always knew the answers.

Even more extraordinary are the glimpses into her egalitarian marriage. Marty was the consummate loving husband who supported and encouraged Ruth, nurtured his children, and even cooked dinner!

Despite graduating at the top of her class, Ruth encounters blatant sexism as she struggles to find work in New York City. At home, she laments: “I wasn’t what they were looking for… A woman graduating top of her class must be a real ball-buster. I worked hard, I did everything I was supposed to do, and I excelled.” Unable to practice law, she accepts the only position offered: college law professor of gender laws.

The film then jumps to the early 1970s where Ruth is increasingly frustrated by her inability to fight for gender rights in the courts. At home, she and her daughter Jane (Cailee Spaeny) squabble while Marty acts as a peacemaker.

When Marty, who is now a successful tax lawyer, comes across a case of gender bias against a man, he offers it to Ruth, who jumps at the opportunity to expose all the outdated laws that discriminate on the basis of sex.

The second half of the film focuses on this case, which concerns the taxation of a Colorado bachelor caring for his elderly mother. At times, the material is dry, and the legal jargon can be difficult to follow.

But Ruth’s commitment to change and dogged determination are inspiring.

When she encounters the skepticism of renowned political activist Dorothy Kenyon (expertly played by Kathy Bates), Ruth responds: “Protests are important, but changing the culture means nothing if the law doesn’t change.”

She endures and learns from the criticism of her longtime friend and ally at ACLU (well played by Justin Theroux). After a less than auspicious start in the Colorado courtroom, Ruth rises to the occasion and delivers a dramatic oral argument about the need for “radical social change.”

A must-see film!


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3 responses to “Movie Review: On the Basis of Sex

  1. I agree that this is an important must-see film, but more for its historical portrait rather than good moviemaking. I found the performances inauthentic, the editing somewhat disjointed, and the script over-dense with legalese. As for that perfect husband Martin, where would one find one (especially in the ’70s).

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