On the Basis of Sex (2018)
User ReviewsReview this title
One thing though: I don't understand the reviews that slam the movie as being "political" all we saw was a lawyer sincerely trying to ensure everyone received the same treatment under the law.
Long may she serve!
I thoroughly enjoyed this movie! I was drawn in and enjoyed the acting very much. The subject matter and characters felt very real, and to think it was even remotely based on a true story made this movie a home-run for me.
Couple of comments: this is the latest movie from director Mimi Leder, best known for 2000's "Pay It Forward". Here she brings to the big screen the early years in Ruth Bader Ginsburg's career. Let be very clear: Ruth Bader Ginsburg is an amazingly sharp lawyer who endured sex discrimination at every opportunity, to the point that she decided to do something about. AND THEN DID IT. Flash forward: June, 2018 marked the 25th anniversary of her stint on the US Supreme Court. In other words, this is such a remarkable woman. Sadly, "On the Basis of Sex" doesn't do justice to this outstanding woman and lawyer. In fact, "On the Basis of Sex' is done strictly by-the-numbers, without any dramatic tension and with an utter predictability that makes this almost into a snooze fest. (Some reviewers here apparently do not/cannot differentiate between this remarkable woman and what a good movie actually is or should be...) As it happens, in 2018 a documentary about Ruth Bader Ginsburg called "RBG" was released. "RBG" puts "On the Basis of Sex" to shame, frankly, and I am 99% certain that "RBG" will pick up an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary in the near future (and I am equally certain that "On the Basis of Sex" will not get any Oscar nominations). Playing the role of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Felicity Jones, bless her heart, tries the best she can with the material that she is given, but in the end she cannot overcome the movie's fatal flaw, namely a weak script. To be clear: Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a shining light and role model for so many, and very deservedly so. But that doesn't make "On the Basis of Sex" a good movie... Bottom line: if you haven't seen either of "RBG" and "On the Basis of Sex", by all means chose "RBG". If you've seen "RBG" already, don't bother with "On the Basis of Sex".
"On the Basis of Sex" has seen a very limited release so far, but will expand nationally this coming weekend. It currently has been playing in one single theater here in Cincinnati. The Tuesday evening screening where I saw this at was attended okay but not great (about 10-12 people). I had good hopes for this movie, but when I compare this to "RBG", there is no doubt which one is (by far) the better movie. Of course I encourage you to check out "On the Basis of Sex", be it in the theater, on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion. And don't forget about "RBG"!
*UPDATE* 1/22/19 As I predicted, "RBG" received an Oscar nomination (for Best Documentary). "On the Basis of Sex" did not get any Oscar nominations. (While "RBG" is a strong contender, in the end I see the Oscar for Best Documentary going to "Free Solo".)
Sandra Day O'Conner is the woman who actually blazed a trail for women in the field of law, and to the highest court in the land.
But, I suppose no one in Hollywood would want to do an honest film about a Conservative woman who battled her way to the top, and was the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court, by a Conservative President Ronald Reagan.
It would just make it harder to sell the lie that conservatives are misogynists.
The film begins with Ginsburg (Felicity Jones) and her husband, Marty (Armie Hammer), in their newlywed law school days in which Ruth was one of nine women in her Harvard Law class of nearly 500, establishing context for the sex-based discrimination that she would fight in her career and the equal rights crusader she'd become. Yet Daniel Stiepleman's script incidentally positions the film as a career-spanning biopic this way, when in fact most of the film takes place close to 15 years later.
That's a surprise more than a flaw, as many of the film's best moments come out of a deep intellectual dive into the case of Moritz v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue and what Ruth, Marty and the ACLU's Mel Wulf (Justin Theroux) believed they had to say and do to convince three white male appellate judges to change the course of history. That's fascinating, but it's definitely not the advertised story of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and how she became a Supreme Court Justice.
When the film's not awash in legalese, it's trying to portray Ruth in a way that lives up to the "hype." There are lots of "ooh" and "ahh" moments as a character says something really sexist and Ruth has the perfect response, a device that kills it in a crowded theater but plays more into the myth of Ginsburg than the humanity. Jones, an outstanding actor, is left with the responsibility of trying to ground this prophetic character with a script that's lacking subtlety. Fights with her teenage daughter, Jane (Cailee Spaeny), for example, happen instantly to blatantly serve the purpose of the story, or Jane behaves in this perfectly feminist way that convinces her mother to solider on, punctuated by the camera holding on Jones so she can convey a moment of epiphany. It's the stuff of lesser biopics to be sure.
Nevertheless, "On the Basis of Sex" conveys the key details of Ruth's story and the social importance of her work and Moritz case. (It also can't be given too hard a time for taking liberties; Stiepelman is Ginsburg's nephew and she reviewed his script for accuracy.) In particular, the film captures the importance of Ruth and Marty's relationship. Even though Hammer is far too dreamy to play a tax lawyer, the film is clear yet not over-the-top in conveying the equality of their partnership and the support they provided to each other. Jones and Hammer are terrific actors, but director Mimi Leder deserves some credit for facilitating their chemistry the right way.
The film also succeeds in communicating the scope of sex-based discrimination in the U.S. as recently as the early '70s and the amount of cases that Ruth examined as director of the ACLU's Women's Right Project. The Moritz case was the first of a series of strategic moves to slowly change the legal precedents in sex discrimination cases, and the seriousness of changing minds and ultimately engrained beliefs about gender is not lost on the film and factors into much of the conflict as Ruth, Mary and Mel strategize how to frame their appeal.
Buried within their hero's crusade is an unheralded performance from character actor Chris Mulkey as Charles Moritz, the bachelor denied tax breaks to take care of his sick, dependent mother because as a man the law did not consider him a caregiver. Every so often during the verbally superfluous court scene, Leder will peak back at Mulkey, whose eyes remind us that what matters here is not about when a man or woman should or shouldn't be allowed to do, but what a human should be entitled to to take care of another human who can't take care of themselves.
"On the Basis of Sex" needs more graceful moments like this to complement its big picture, high stakes, "history in the making" focus. But while it somewhat settles for raising up the legend of RBG (again), it deserves credit for shining a strong spotlight on what it took to tip the scales of equal rights for women closer to justice and the woman who -- in supporting partnership with her husband -- dared to make the first push.
Thanks for reading! Visit Movie Muse Reviews for more