On the Basis of Sex, a new biographical film about the early law career of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, is both entertaining and important. I’ll touch on both.
The story begins with Ginsburg’s first day at Harvard Law School. She is one of only nine women in a class of approximately 500 men. Her husband, Marty Ginsburg is a second-year law student at the same prestigious institution. Together they balance their schooling with caring for a youngster at home. Sadly, at that time, women like Ruth had to endure overt discrimination. For instance, there wasn’t a woman’s bathroom at Harvard Law School.
When her husband falls ill and has to be hospitalized, Ruth attends both her and her husband’s classes until he is able to return to school. She tutors her husband at night and helps him with his homework, while never falling behind in her own studies. It is a true testament to the limitless potential of someone who refuses to let circumstances get in the way of her desires.
Although she is at the top of her class, Ruth transfers to Columbia University in New York to finish out her law degree when Marty gets a lucrative job in the city.
Even though she graduates at the top of her class at Columbia, Ruth can’t get a job with a legitimate law firm. As a conciliation, she takes a job at Rutgers Law School teaching “The Law and Sex Discrimination.”
The story then takes us through the start of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passionate work in discrimination and civil rights law. Again, no matter the obstacles, her superior intelligence and unending drive bring her out on top. There is even a Rocky type build up towards the knock out fight where the film culminates.
But this isn’t a story just about a gender discrimination attorney. It is a story about a real woman and this is where the story really succeeds.
The marriage of Ruth and Marty Ginsburg is given a great deal of screen time. And deservedly so, you don’t find marriages like that anymore where the husband and wife stick by each other no matter what. They were married 58 years until Marty’s passing in 2010.
Felicity Jones does a fabulous job portraying Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She demonstrates passion for her ideals of right and wrong, a love for her partner and children, and even a romantic side in the bedroom. I applaud this move by director Mimi Leder to show Ruth as a real person with many sides to her personality.
Arnie Hammer plays Marty. And he does a fine job. The chemistry he shares with Jones is beautiful to watch. Hammer makes it believable that Marty never falters in his dedication to his wife and children. He even made me forget that he was the man behind the mask in 2013’s The Lone Ranger. Consider that high praise, as that I have a healthy obsession with playing the role of The Lone Ranger myself.
Sam Waterston and Kathy Bates provide very interesting supporting roles. Waterson plays the head of Harvard Law School, Dean Griswold. From his many years on the popular television series Law & Order, Waterson is instantly acceptable as a powerhouse in the field of law. Bates plays civil rights lawyer Dorothy Kenyon, an inspiration to Ginsburg.
The movie doesn’t take us into Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s rise to the Supreme Court. But it is that move up the ladder of success as an attorney and judge that makes this film so important.
We just had an accused rapist confirmed to the Supreme Court. Not only is Brett Kavanaugh likely guilty of multiple sex crimes, he was nominated for the post by President Donald Trump who himself has been accused by no less than 22 women of sexual misconduct and has openly bragged about sexually assaulting women. He has also openly praised neo Nazis and white supremacists as “good people.” He himself has also publicly identified himself as white nationalist. Let that sink in.
Justice Ginsburg is 85 years old. She knows that if she retires now, her replacement would be extremely right wing. Perhaps even worse than Kavanaugh.
So she serves. And she will as long as she can make a difference. This movie tells the story of why she serves – who she is as a person.
On a scale of one to ten, I give On the Basis of Sex a strong 7.75.