On The Basis of Sex Review: Not all heroes wear capes | SWITCH.




By Jess Fenton
30th January 2019

Move over Wonder Woman. Step aside Black Widow. There’s a new superhero in town, and her hero name is even cooler than yours - she goes by the Notorious RBG. Americans have known about her for decades. Outsiders have slowly been introduced to her thanks to the likes of SNL’s Kate McKinnon and her “Gins-burns”, 2018’s documentary ‘RBG’, and the simple fact that bad arse warriors like her don’t stay hidden forever. Her mark on this world and her presence as a figure of women’s rights and justice is epic and due for the Hollywood treatment - 2019 is the time the world finally knows the name Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

It’s 1956 when we first meet a 23-year-old Ruth (Felicity Jones, ‘The Theory of Everything’) as she enters the famed halls of Harvard Law School, fresh-faced and eager to learn things that will help her change the world - aware but by no means deterred by the fact that she is a standout not for her intelligence, but as one of only nine women matriculating in a class of 500 men. She's married to fellow Harvard law student Martin Ginsberg (Armie Hammer, ‘Call Me By Your Name’), has a baby, and yet still manages to top her class, take care of her family, help her husband through his ailing health, and cause those fabulous ripples that’ll be felt for generations. We follow Ruth through law school, struggling to find a job despite her many impressive accomplishments, her lively debates with her teenage daughter, her becoming a law professor, and eventually finding and taking on the landmark case with the help of her ever-supportive, encouraging and loving husband, that will help her become who she became.


This film feels a little old-fashioned in structure with a few too many epiphany moments, too much grandstanding, and this unquenchable need to portray its subject as a symbol and monument of iconography rather than the incredible person she was - ironically, a task RBG has done all on her own without the aide of Hollywood. Written by first-time screenwriter Daniel Stiepleman, it seems that he too grew up with the tale of the great and powerful Ginsbergs seeing that he’s their nephew. Director Mimi Leder is also a female trailblazer in her own right, becoming the first female cinematographer and graduate of the AFI Conservatory. So there’s no doubt this tale was in the right empathetic hands of admiration, but perhaps emotionally the task was too big. However, it looks fantastic. Leder’s former life as a cinematographer is on full display here with the help of Michael Grady (Netflix’s ‘Ozark’), the most fabulous and powerful shot being the film’s opening as a sea of impeccably dressed men enter the hallowed halls of Harvard Law School with a single cornflour blue figure in amongst the chaos with a hat on her head, pumps on her feet and justice in her eyes.

There’s no doubt this tale was in the right empathetic hands of admiration, but perhaps emotionally the task was too big.

Jones and Hammer share great chemistry and do great justice to their real-life counterparts, bolstered by a fun and fiery support cast in Kathy Bates, Justin Theroux and Sam Waterston. As powerful and emotional a film as this is, once you see it it’s not hard to tell why it’s been so absent during this awards season. The documentary ‘RBG’ took care of her legacy last year, ‘On The Basis of Sex’ gives us a pretty love story to admire and a woman to idolise. It’s an enjoyable feminist feast to shed a tear over and be grateful for the path forged by those before us.

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