It seems like we’re catching Ruth Bader Ginsburg fever. The documentary RBG, which depicts Ginsburg’s journey to the Supreme Court, came out early last year. Now, we have On the Basis of Sex, a fictionalized account on Ginsburg’s life that doesn’t necessarily focus on her road to being a Supreme Court Justice. Instead, it narrowly focuses on the case that became a major starting point in her ongoing fight for equality.
There are parts of her personal life that the film does explore like when she started out as a Harvard law student before she transferred to Columbia. Also, it depicts her relationship with her lawyer husband Martin. But its main focus is on a tax case that not only ties into gender discrimination but is one that became a major stepping stone for Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s career.
When the film first opens, it gives a superb visual demonstration of the gender barriers Ginsburg had to overcome. The opening sequence involves countless men heading into Harvard Law School before Ruth slowly steps into the crowd. It perfectly illustrates how Ruth chose to go into law when very few women weren’t in that profession. Either because they chose to fulfill their traditional roles of being a wife and mother or because they didn’t have a strong enough support system.
During that particular sequence, the camera not only focuses on not just Ruth trying to process being one of the few women in her class but also how she observes the other women around her. Some may find this sequence rather on the nose but given the film’s subject matter, it is rather fitting.
The film itself does have a tendency to spell out its themes in an expositional manner. However, it still proves to be effective regardless. As for Felicity Jones who plays the famed RBG, she does a fine job despite some flubs with the Brooklyn accent. Also, Armie Hammer proves to be a charismatic standout as Marty Ginsburg.
Both he and Jones have terrific romantic chemistry and to fit the film’s depiction of gender politics, we get to see Martin occupy the role of the supportive husband. Seeing something like that on screen shouldn’t seem like a big deal in this day and age. But because we often see women play supportive wives stuck at home, it is a refreshing change of pace to see a man play a supportive husband stuck at home.
Along with Ruth’s gender equality battle, the relationship between her and Marty proves to be the heart and soul of the movie. Both actors do an amazing job selling the romance between them and the film expertly shows that Martin’s willingness to take care of the household while Ruth went off to achieve her dreams is a testament of their love.
On the Basis of Sex may be rather safe and old fashioned in terms of its filmmaking style. However, it is still a wonderfully accessible biopic. It features solid acting from its two lead actors and proves to be impactful thanks to its subject matter.