Tenacious, fearless, and notorious are the words that come to mind when thinking about Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Even with her ongoing cancer treatments and old age, RBG still finds a way to make it to the courthouse and stay up to date on pop culture. She is an icon in women’s rights. She’s persistent when it comes to fighting for the people. And the best part is, she’s humble.
In “On the Basis of Sex,” the latest bio-pic on the esteemed Supreme Court Justice’s ceiling-shattering career, the film follows Ginsburg (Felicity Jones) in her early days after she first set out to become a lawyer. She’s attending classes alongside her husband, Martin Ginsburg (Armie Hammer), at Harvard University, all while caring for her daughter, Jane (Cailee Spaeny).
Martin was a year ahead of Ginsburg, so upon graduation, he was hired by a firm in New York. Ginsburg, adamant to graduate from Harvard, had to “settle” with completing her J.D. at Columbia University.
Despite graduating at the top of her class, Ginsburg didn’t have has much luck as her counterpart when it came to finding a job. After applying and interviewing at some of the top law firms, her credentials didn’t mean as much because she was a woman. As a result, she ended up becoming a professor at Rutgers Law School before working on the case that would change her career, and life, forever.
Jumping ahead six years, the movie shifts from Ginsburg’s academic life to her pursuits for women’s rights. Martin receives a case about a man, Charles Moritz (Chris Mulkey), who was denied a tax reduction on nursing the care for his mother. Even though the court rules against Mortiz, Ginsburg quickly discovers that the case could be the start to the fight for women’s rights. Ginsburg seeks help along the way from Mel Wulf (Justin Theroux), of the ACLU, and activist Dorothy Kenyon (Kathy Bates).
The story is as accurate as can be, making sure to cover many of Ginsburg’s struggles, and the few times she was successful. Bio-pics tend to steer away from the truth, sometimes completely overdramatizing the story to make it more favorable for viewers. “On the Basis of Sex” wasn’t one of those films, especially because Ginsburg did her own fact checks on the script. Daniel Stiepleman, Ginsburg’s nephew, wrote the film, so it was clear from the start that the movie was going to be a personal one for quite a few people.
Throughout her life, and even today, Ginsburg is resilient, and it shows in the movie. Jones’ performance as Ginsburg received mixed reviews, but I thought her portrayal was spot-on and exuded the confidence that Ginsburg has. Apparently, Natalie Portman was set to play Ginsburg when the project was in development, but Jones fit the bill better. It worked out in the end, especially because RBG said that Jones’ performance was “beyond wonderful.”
It was crucial for director Mimi Leder that the cast and story were perfect, because “On the Basis of Sex” was Leder’s first major movie after an 18-year hiatus from Hollywood. Leder chose “OTBOS” as her returning film because she relates to Ginsburg: both women were firsts in their respective careers, both are Jewish mothers and both had strong narratives that have broken barriers for future generations. Leder wanted to tell Ginsburg’s story, to do it justice. And she did just that.
Although the film grossed only $13 million in the box office worldwide, “On the Basis of Sex” has received mostly positive reviews. Most viewers found the film to be inspiring and hopeful. It’s kind of like the girl-lawyer version of “Rockie”; it just makes you want to get up and do something about it. It’s a story that was made for the new generation to enjoy and get motivated by. It revealed the need for equality and showed that respect isn’t easy to earn.
The film may have only covered a small portion of RBG’s long life, but it told her origin story. Granted, at times, the film was a little cliché, but I think for many viewers in the younger generation, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For many people, there is very little hope in the world, especially in terms of politics. It’s movies like these that make you want to believe that things can get better, that things will get better. People like happy endings, and if that story has a chance of even being remotely true, then people are going to want to hear it.
Without this movie, RBG would just have been known as another old lady on the Supreme Court, who happened to be the center of hundreds of memes. “On the Basis of Sex” was told through the lens of someone who wanted to capture a young audience. It differed greatly from “RBG” — the official Ruth Bader Ginsburg documentary — but gave just enough to get the ball rolling.
Some argued that the movie came out late, and others that it came out early; I think it came out at just the right time. I know when I was in elementary and middle school, I had no idea who RBG was. The history being taught in school is changing as time goes on. But this is one lesson that shouldn’t be skipped over. Even in today’s political scene, women are quietly taking their rightful place and still being firsts. It may not have started with Ginsburg, but she sure did a lot to make sure that her voice was heard.
In a year of disappointing biopics, “On the Basis of Sex” defies odds by not withholding anything, telling only the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Yes, it was somewhat dramatic, but sometimes it needed to tell an epic story. Hopefully, by now, everybody knows who Ruth Bader Ginsburg is and they won’t ever stop talking about her.