The true story of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, her struggles for equal rights, and the early cases of a historic career that lead to her nomination and confirmation as U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg has became something of an unlikely pop culture icon due to her tireless quest for equality whilst serving as one of the nine serving justices on the US Supreme Court and Mimi Leder’s film is about how she got there. ‘On the Basis of Sex’ sets out to tell the story of how a young Jewish woman successfully fought the patriarchy and the challenges within her personal life to deliver meaningful change in the United States, and how this led to her position today. It’s a smart and sharply written piece of work that had me engrossed from the outset, with compelling performances from Felicity Jones as Ginsburg, and Armie Hammer as her husband Martin.
The film begins on Ruth’s first day at Harvard Law School, as she attends class as one of only a handful of women amongst a sea of men. Throughout her time at Harvard, and carrying through into her attempts to get a job at a law firm, she faces everyday sexism and is unable to progress in her chosen career not through lack of ability, but through the laws and discrimination of the time. Whilst working as a professor and continuing to desire a career in law, she stumbles on a case of gender based discrimination, ironically in this case one which penalises men. Using this as the basis for a wider argument, she takes the case to the Court of Appeals to present her arguments. I really enjoyed this film, particularly in how it balanced Ginsburg’s family life with her career, contrasting this with the outdated views and laws that restricted her (and many others) ability to forge the path in life in which they chose. The dialogue is occasionally clunky (‘It is a cage and these laws are the bars’ is just ugh awards reel stuff), but the filmmaking is earnest, the performances enjoyable and the story worthwhile.
The film builds up to Ginsburg’s day in court and it’s a memorable sequence, tense and exciting even as we know (or at least suspect) how things might turn out. Mimi Leder’s made a solid film about a remarkable woman, and the origins of her story are a reminder that big changes often come from small beginnings.
Directed By: Mimi Leder
Starring: Felicity Jones, Armie Hammer, Justin Theroux, Kathy Bates, Cailee Spaeny, Sam Waterston, Jack Reynor, Callum Shoniker, Stephen Root, Chris Mulkey, Ronald Guttman, Gary Werntz, Francis X. McCarthy and Ben Carlson