Movie Review: 'On The Basis of Sex' A Ruth Bader Ginsburg Biopic

January 4, 2019

Courtesy of Allied Global Marketing


Warning: spoilers ahead (As far as there can be spoilers in a work based on actual events whose outcome is known.)

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a badass. “On the Basis of Sex,” the biopic detailing Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s (RBG’s) education, struggle, and success in battling gender inequality via the U.S. Court System solidifies this fact- As if it were shaky in the first place. Bah!

The first leg of the movie is dedicated to RBG’s Harvard “education.” The opening scenes show a young RBG (Felicity Jones) navigating a sea of broad-shouldered blazers into a Harvard Welcoming Ceremony - 1956. Students assemble in the hall to the sound of Harvard’s famous fight song “Ten Thousand MEN of Harvard Want Victory Today,” they sing. The student introduction begins with Harvard Dean, Erwin Griswold (Sam Waterston) asking the students who are assembled, “What kind of Harvard MAN do you want to be?”

Do you sense a theme here? When RBG entered Harvard Law school, she was only one of nine women in her class.

Courtesy of Allied Global Marketing

In a later, painful scene, the nine women are invited to dine with the Dean where they are each asked to stand and explain why they have chosen to be at Harvard, "taking a seat that a man could have filled.” Ouch.

If there’s an established villain in this movie, it’s Dean Griswold. He’s the living embodiment of the passive sexism inherent, well… in the whole “Mad Men” era.  

The film transitions easily from the 50’s to the 70’s, skipping the 60’s altogether. At this point, RBG is a professor at Rutgers Law. Surprise! After graduating top of her class from Harvard/Columbia Law School she is unable to land a job at any law firm.

“The wives would be jealous,” one interviewer apologetically tells her.

That’s fine. She takes a position educating and empowering a new generation of lawyers to tear down decades of laws steeped in gender discrimination. The problem? Dismantling the system was HER dream.

Running alongside this turbulent narrative is a family love story - the true, steady and inspiring love story between RBG and her husband Martin Ginsburg (Armie Hammer) and the complicated and strained relationship between RBG and her teenage daughter Jane Ginsberg (Cailee Spaeny.)

The movie comes to focus on the case of a bachelor, Charles Moritz (Chris Mulkey) who is the primary caretaker of his elderly mother. Moritz is ineligible and unable to take advantage of a tax deduction for nursing care because he is a MAN who has never been married.

RBG, her husband Martin, and ACLU Legal Director Mel Wulf (Justin Theroux) challenge an appellate court to change the law. Fighting for one man’s gender equality is like a gateway challenge to all laws based on gender discrimination.

This is a gem of a film. Don’t be surprised if even before the credits begin to roll, you feel compelled to break into applause, just like most of the audience did in the theater where I watched this movie.

This film was directed by Mimi Leder. The screenplay was written by RBG’s nephew Daniel Stiepleman. It is in theaters starting December 4, 2019.

Watch the trailer below.