On the Basis of Sex – a movie review by Roz Tarszisz

February 5, 2019 by Roz Tarszisz
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One could be forgiven for thinking that the use of sex in a title meant a movie was about sex.

It is, but not in a prurient way.  It could just as easily be about race or religion but that would miss the point.

Inspired by the true story of Ruth Bader Ginsberg (aka RBG), a present-day US Supreme Court Justice, the film covers her early years in the law. Her nephew, Daniel Stiepleman, wrote the script and it has her imprimatur.

It is 1956 when RBG (Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything) enters Harvard Law School. She’s one of only nine women in an ocean of men, and it proves hard to get attention from lecturers and be taken seriously.   She’s not only a woman, but married, with a child and Jewish.

However, she is also a feisty, articulate and bright student and ends up near top of her class. When she goes job hunting after graduation she endures many rejections, subsequently becoming a law academic.

Her husband Martin (Armie Hammer, Final Portrait), also studying law, is extremely supportive and theirs is an enduring love story. He is proud of her intellect and achievements and wants her to succeed.

Ruth has a strong interest in women’s rights. It’s the seventies when her teenage daughter, Jane (Cilee Spaeny) points out that times have changed and attitudes need to change.  Together with Martin (now a tax lawyer) she takes on a taxation case where a man is discriminated against because he is not a woman.  She enlists the backing of Mel Wulf (Justin Theroux) of the American Civil Liberties Union and lawyer Dorothy Kenyon (Kathy Bates).

It is fitting that Dean Erwin Griswold (Sam Waterson) and Professor Brown (Stephen Root) of Harvard Law School become her adversaries in the court room where she is pitted against Jim Bozarth (Jack Reynor).   When she makes her appeal, without notes and from the heart, it’s very moving.

Much of this has been covered in the 2018 documentary RBG, but director Mimi Leder makes it fresh and relevant. The settings and costumes are terrific, with excellent performances.  Jones plays Ruth as prim but fierce in her intellect and sense of justice.

It’s an absorbing movie and reminiscent of a host of others where the protagonist endures discrimination on the basis of race, religion or even sex. Go RBG!

3.5/5 120mins Rated M Released February 7

Starring Felicity Jones, Armie Hammer, Justin Theroux, Jack Reynor, Cilee Spaeny, Sam Waterston, Kathy Bates

Directed by Mimi Leder

Written by Daniel Stiepleman

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