Posts Tagged ‘Ruth Bader Ginsberg’

Felicity Jones as Ruth Bader Ginsberg

“ON THE BASIS OF SEX” My rating: B

120 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

“RBG,” last year’s documentary about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, was so encyclopedic and emotionally engaging that at first flush a fiction film based on the same material seems superfluous.

Of course, “RBG” didn’t feature an eager and mildly acrobatic bedroom encounter between the young Ruth and her husband Marty. So there’s that.

Directed by Mimi Leder, “On the Basis of Sex” concentrates on the early years of Ginsberg’s legal career and culminates with her arguing a landmark legal case that forced the government to end discrimination based on sex.

If the film follows a predictable David-vs-Goliath path, it is nevertheless informative, accurate (RBG has given it her stamp of approval) and inspiring.

And it succeeds in making its heroine wildly appealing not for her looks or her ability to elicit warm fuzzies but because of her towering intellect and fierce determination. A different kind of leading lady, indeed.

We join Ruth Bader Ginsberg (Felicity Jones) at the 1956 orientation session for Harvard Law School.  She’s one of only nine women in a class of 500; at a special luncheon for the ladies, the dean (Sam Waterston) asks each woman to explain why she deserves a slot that could have gone to a man.

Ooookay, then.

Ruth is clearly p.o.-ed by the numerous displays of chauvinism she encounters, but her style is to buckle down and beat the guys at their own game.  Which she does on a regular basis.

She’s supported in all this by her husband, Marty (Armie Hammer), on his way to becoming a wildly successful tax lawyer but more than happy to be the family’s cook and primary childcare provider while the Missus buckles down with the books.  Not only is Marty a good-natured saint, he looks (in this film, anyway) exactly like Armie Hammer.  The whole package. Which makes his early diagnosis of testicular cancer even more unsettling.

Like the documentary “RBG,” this film alternates between two aspects of its subject’s life. There’s the Ginsbergs’ personal story — by most accounts Marty and Ruth had one of the century’s great marriages. But not all is copacetic. Ruth is excoriated by her teenage daughter as “a bully…and she wants everyone to know how smart she is.”


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Ruth Bader Ginsberg

“RBG”  My rating: B+

98 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

Even if you fail to notice that the opening credits of “RBG” overwhelmingly feature women’s names, it will take only a few minutes to recognize this doc as possibly the most feminist movie of all time.

It comes with the territory.  At age 84 its subject, Ruth Bader Ginsberg is, for many of us, the voice of open-minded sanity on the U.S. Supreme Court. This diminutive grandmother has become a cultural icon with a funny (but dead serious) rapper nickname: The Notorious RBG.  Her elfin features appear on coffee cups, T-shirts and bumper stickers.

For millions of women, Ginsberg is the ultimate role model. Interviewee Gloria Steinem calls her “the closest thing to a superhero that I know.”

Julie Cohen and Betsy West’s film might be dismissed as hagiography — though the film opens with right-wing talk radio soundbites excoriating Justice Ginsberg, thereafter nary a discouraging word is heard. Apparently to know RBG is to love her.

And that’s pretty much how audiences will leave “RBG”…with love, respect and awe.

The film works on two levels. First there’s the public person, whose  class at Harvard Law featured  more than 500 students, only nine of whom were women. She taught gender law at Rutgers, then got involved in arguing cases (often before the Supreme Court) that changed the legal parameters of female rights.

But if she argued for abortion rights — maintaining that “freedom” was a cruel illusion if women were denied reproductive rights — and represented a woman denied entry to the all-male (and state-funded) Virginia Military Institute, she was also willing to challenge a Louisiana law that allowed women to opt out of jury duty. Equal is equal, after all.

The talking heads  assembled for this film — among them journalist Nina Totenberg, grandchildren and a slew of Ginsberg’s fellow attorneys — credit her with creating a legal landscape that case by case led to greater sexual equality.

And that was before Bill Clinton named her to the Supreme Court. (more…)

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