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On the Basis of Sex (A PopEntertainment.com Movie Review)

On the Basis of Sex


Starring Felicity Jones, Armie Hammer, Justin Theroux, Jack Reynor, Cailee Spaeny, Sam Waterston, Kathy Bates, Christian Mulkey, Stephen Root, Gary Werntz, Francis Xavier McCarthy, Ben Carlson, Ronald Guttman, Wendy Crewson, John Ralston, Karl Graboshas, Arthur Holden, Angela Galuppo and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Screenplay by Daniel Stiepleman.

Directed by Mimi Leder.

Distributed by Focus Features. 118 minutes. Rated PG-13.

You don’t expect an eighty-something Jewish grandma to be a pop-culture phenomenon. Then again, Ruth Bader Ginsburg isn’t just any bubbe.

The second woman to serve on the Supreme Court, since her 1993 induction, Ginsburg has become a superhero of jurisprudence. She has inspired women (and men) around the world because of her intelligence, her principles, her empathy, her drive and her morality.

In doing her job to the best of her ability and with a single-minded determination (just last week, she voted on an important case while waiting to go into surgery because of a luckily non-life-threatening cancer scare) Ginsburg has become a pop-culture icon. She has inspired books and internet memes, bumper stickers and souvenir tchotkes. She is a favorite of late-night TV comics. She even has a rap name – The Notorious RBG.

This is the second movie about Ginsburg this year – the terrific documentary RBG came out several months ago – and while some of the story overlaps, On the Basis of Sex shows Ginsburg’s life is a history worth revisiting.

Unlike the documentary, the live-action bio-pic On the Basis of Sex limits its scope to Ginsburg’s experiences. It looks at RBG as a young student, law professor and her first experiences as a historically relevant lawyer, during which she won the first major rulings for gender equality. It also shows her as a loving young wife (her doting husband Marty was a very well-known tax attorney who always strongly supported his wife’s career) and mother.

One the Basis of Sex starts with a very arresting image. A new class of Harvard law students walking in a mob, a sea of young white guys in interchangeable suits, and then the camera comes to rest on a fashionable but professional blue dress. Young Ruth Bader Ginsburg enters the halls of academia and justice – just one of nine women allowed into Harvard Law that year – and even though she is surrounded by the status quo, she stands out as something different even when swallowed up by the mob.

Harvard had just been allowing women to attend the law school for a few years. Even now that they had gotten in, they were made – literally – to explain why they felt they should be in Harvard Law, taking a spot which could have been filled by a man. Ginsburg finished at the top of her class, despite extreme hardships – she had a young child and Marty, who was also in Harvard Law, was stricken with testicular cancer, making Ginsburg to take his classes as well as her own.

Still, despite the fact that she was at the top of her class at Harvard Law – and at Columbia Law, where she transferred when Marty got a job in New York – no law firm would touch her. All gave their reasons, but the true reason was clear – they were not going to give such an important job to a woman.

However, Ginsburg was not going to allow sexism to stop her. She took a job as a law professor and did a little legal work with the ACLU, looking for a case which could question gender bias and hopefully prove the illegality of sexual discrimination.

This forms the spine of the story, a look at how a young Ginsburg overcame overt personal sexism to help to overcome societal sexism. It is a smart story about an intelligent and driven woman who uses her intellect, her sense of justice, and her soft-spoken passion in order to make the world a better place.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg has long been a good role model through her actions. Now the film of her life just bolsters her importance. If you have a daughter, take her to see On the Basis of Sex. Even if you don’t have a daughter, still go to see it. It will help to renew your faith in jurisprudence and the American way in a very chaotic time.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2018 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: December 25, 2018.

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