Granger on Film / ‘On the Basis of Sex’ is admiring, but simplified
This informative biography focuses on Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s early years as a persevering law student and pioneering female attorney, long before she evolved into Notorious RBG.
Beginning in 1956, when wide-eyed Ruth Bader (Felicity Jones) was already married to Martin Ginsburg (Armie Hammer) with a baby daughter, it shows how she became one of only nine women in the Harvard Law School class of more than 500 men.
“What does it mean to be a Harvard man?” the Dean (Sam Waterston) rhetorically asks the assemblage.
Later, despite having graduated from Columbia Law School, tied for first in her class, she cannot get a job in a New York law firm. So she teaches at Rutgers— until she discovers a tantalizing 1972 sex discrimination case.
A single male Colorado caregiver, Charles Moritz (Christian Mulkley), is denied a $296 tax deduction because he is male, and caregivers are assumed to be female.
Discrimination against men? That’s what propels Ginsburg through the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and right up to Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.
It’s impossible to chronicle Ginsburg’s rising legal career without acknowledging the devotion of her husband, a lawyer himself, who was incredibly supportive, including doing the household chores, like cooking, while she pursued her passion.
Worshipfully written by Justice Ginsburg’s nephew, Daniel Stiepleman, it’s formulaically directed by Mimi Leder, who adroitly casts Kathy Bates as activist attorney Dorothy Kenyon and Justin Theroux as Mel Wulf of the ACLU. And it concludes with a cameo of the real Ginsburg walking up the steps of the Supreme Court building.
Although the very British actress Felicity Jones seems like odd casting (Natalie Portman was the original choice), apparently, she got the approval of Justice Ginsburg, who reassured her: “I’ve seen your work; you can do it.”
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “On the Basis of Sex” is an admiring, if soberly simplified 7. This idolatrous historical narrative doesn’t do RBG justice.