‘On the Basis of Sex’ Film Review: RBG Biopic Celebrates the Political and the Personal

How do you make a biopic about one of the greatest living legal and political legends of our lifetime? For one, you don’t. It’s far too great a task to summarize in just two hours the work of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the impact she has had on an entire country and on generations of women.

Instead, director Mimi Leder’s “On the Basis of Sex” is an imperfect — at times too formulaic, but still engaging — love letter to women everywhere by giving them a peek at not the Ginsburg the Supreme Court justice, but Ruth the woman, the mother and the pioneer.

Ginsburg’s nephew, first-time screenwriter Daniel Stiepleman, uses his insider knowledge not only to feature Ruth’s journey to becoming the woman who pioneered gender equality within the law but also to take us inside the home life of Ruth (Felicity Jones) and Martin Ginsburg (Armie Hammer), where the two are equals in every way.

Watch Video: Felicity Jones Is Ruth Bader Ginsburg in First Trailer for ‘On the Basis of Sex’

The film spans a period of 15 years, beginning in 1956, when Ruth is one of the first women to attend Harvard Law School, where her husband Martin also studies. Ruth faces many challenges: Martin’s cancer diagnosis, raising two children, trying to make a career as a lawyer in a sexist culture which let her become an attorney but refused to let her practice it.

The story culminates in 1970, when Ruth finds the case of Charles Moritz (Christian Mulkey), who has been denied a caregiver tax deduction because of his gender. The country is in a period of cultural change, and Ruth hopes that by building a case around the gender discrimination of a man, she could end gender discrimination for women as well.

From Ruth’s journey as a Harvard Law student to the attorney who challenged sexist laws, “On the Basis of Sex” reflects on the struggles this ceiling-breaking woman faced in contrast to those her husband didn’t, but it doesn’t dare stomp on their love story as something that was just a sidebar to either achieving success. Neither does it try to win over audiences with the couple’s courtship. We meet both on an equal plane — new parents and law students, with individual goals and dreams, yet aspiring to success together.

Also Read: ‘RBG’ Film Review: Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Life Makes for a Snappy But Surface-Level Documentary

Leder and Stiepleman show Ruth pursuing a career with the same passion she gave to being a wife and mother, which is refreshing to see. It’s rare that a film about a strong woman displays her home life in anything but disarray. Here, her career isn’t used as a subtle excuse for why she fails at being a caring or loving spouse or parent. In the Ginsburg home, no one is less than the other, and with the chemistry and likability of Jones and Hammer, it’s very easy to believe this was the case. Together they work as equals, supporting each other professionally as they do personally.

Ruth’s relationship with her daughter Jane (Cailee Spaeney, “Bad Times at the El Royale”) may be the most relatable, and the most believable. Mother-daughter relationships are complicated, and Ruth and Jane are no exception. Both are progressive, intelligent and unapologetic in their beliefs about equality, but they are from two different eras.

As many modern women know, the feminism of our mothers is not necessarily the feminism we ourselves believe in. It’s a subtle but interesting observation on the evolving views of feminism and gender equality, displayed beautifully between Jones and Spaeney.

Also Read: Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Mr. Rogers Will Be Competing at the Cinema Eye Honors

The entire cast is exceptional, with appearances by Kathy Bates as spitfire Dorothy Kenyon; Sam Waterston as Erwin Griswold, the dean of Harvard Law and, later, solicitor general; and Stephen Root as a chauvinistic professor turned opposing counsel. But it’s Jones who really shines. She effortlessly embodies Ruth Bader Ginsburg with such aplomb that when she locks her steely eyes with the camera, you can feel it in your bones that this woman is about to change the world.

Hammer has already proven he can play a great slimeball (“The Social Network,” “Sorry to Bother You”), but here his charm and humility offers a road map on how to be an ally to women.

Though the film does play it safe, and slips into a formulaic narrative, the flaws are less within the film itself than in our expectations for what we want it to tell us. These are chaotic times, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg is our real-life Princess Leia. She inspires hope and strength and remains one of the few people who challenges the status quo, even today.

“On the Basis of Sex” makes her human. For some, that may not be enough, but it’s nonetheless a worthwhile and emotional experience meant to inspire generations to come.



97 Sundance Portraits From TheWrap at Acura Studios With Keira Knightley, Robert Pattinson and More (Photos)

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studios

Actress Chloë Sevigny, “Lizzie” 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studios

“Lizzie” writer Bryce Kass, actor Denis O’Hare, director Craig William Macneill and actress Chloë Sevigny 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studios

“Believer” director Don Argott with subjects Tyler Glenn and Dan Reynolds 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studios

“What They Had” stars Taissa Farmiga, Michael Shannon, writer-director Elizabeth Chomko, Blythe Danner and Hilary Swank 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studios

Actor Michael Shannon, “What They Had”

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studios

Meg McGarry, Flynn McGarry, Cameron Yates and Laura Coxson, “Chef Flynn”
Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studio

Flynn McGarry, “Chef Flynn”
Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studio

Director Jesse Peretz, “Juliet, Naked”
Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studio

Actor Chris-O’Dowd, “Juliet, Naked”
Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studio

Director Eugene Jarecki, “The King”

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studio

“An Evening With Beverly Luff Lin” director Jim Hosking with stars Aubrey Plaza, Matt Berry, Craig Robinson, and Jemaine Clement 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studios

“Private Life” stars Kayli Carter and Kathryn Hahn with writer-director Tamara Jenkins 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studios

Actress Kayli Carter, “Private Life” 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studios

“Private Life” producer, Ali Abouomar

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studios

“Eighth Grade” writer-director Bo Burnham and star Elsie Fisher 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studios

Actress Kiersey Clemons, “Hearts Beat Loud” 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studios

“Arizona” director Jonathan Watson with stars Luke Wilson, Elizabeth Gillies, Danny McBride, Lolli Sorenson, Kaitlin Olsen and Rosemarie Dewitt

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studios

Actress Elizabeth Gillies, “Arizona” 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studios

“Dead Pigs” director Cathy Yan with stars Li Meng, Zazie Beetz and David Rhysdahl

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studios

Director Cathy Yan,  “Dead Pigs” 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studios

Actress Zazie Beetz, “Dead Pigs”

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studios

Writer-actor Rafael Casal, director Carlos López Estrada, writer-actor Daveed Diggs, actors Janina Gavankar, Justin Chu Cory and Jasmine Cephas Jones, “Blindspotting” 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studios

Jason Ritter, “The Tale” 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studios

Actor Common, “The Tale” 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studios

Isabella Amara, “The Tale” 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studios

Writer-director-star Carlson Young, “The Blazing World” 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studio

Robert Pattinson and Mia Wasikowska, “Damsel”
Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studio

Actor Robert Pattinson, “Damsel” 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studio

Actress Mia Wasikowska, “Damsel”
Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studio

Director Silas Howard, “A Kid Like Jake”

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studio

Jim Parsons, “A Kid Like Jake” 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studios

Actress Priyanka Chopra, “A Kid Like Jake” 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studios

Claire Danes, “A Kid Like Jake” 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studios

Actress Octavia Spencer, “A Kid Like Jake” 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studios

Actors Jeffrey Wright, Kelvin Harrison Jr., and director Anthony Mandler, “Monster” 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studios

Dominic West and Kiera Knightly, “Colette” 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studios

Actress Kiera Knightly, “Colette” 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studios

Actor John Cho, “Search” 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studios

“The Kindergarten Teacher” director, Sara Colangelo and actress, Maggie Gyllenhaal

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studio

“The Kindergarten Teacher” actress, Maggie Gyllenhaal

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studio

“The Kindergarten Teacher” actress, Anna Baryshnikov

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studio

Musician Aloe Blacc, “America’s Musical Journey” 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studios

Director Jessica Sanders, “End of the Line”  

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studio

Forest Whitaker, “Burden” 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studios

Garrett Hedlund, “Burden” 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studios

Director Talal Derki, “Of Fathers and Sons” 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studios

Director, Boots Riley, “Sorry to Bother You” 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studios

Lakeith Stanfield, “Sorry to Bother You” 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studios

Armie Hammer, “Sorry to Bother You” 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studios

Actor Jason Segel, “Come Sunday” 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studios

Actress Condola Rashad, “Come Sunday”  

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studios

Director Stephen Maing, “Crime and Punishment” 
Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studio

The young women of the “Skate Kitchen” skate collective, with director Crystal Moselle and co-star Jaden Smith, “Skate Kitchen” 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studios

Jaden Smith, “Skate Kitchen” 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studios

Actor Charlie Sexton, director Ethan Hawke, actress Alia Shawkat, actor Josh Hamilton, and acorr Ben Dickey, “Blaze” 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studio

Director Ethan Hawke, “Blaze”

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studio

Actress Alia Shawkat, “Blaze”
Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studio

Actor Ben Dickey, “Blaze” 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studio

Charlie Sexton, “Blaze” 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studio

“The Devil You Know” director Stephanie Soechtig and her four subjects 
Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studios

Director Stephanie Soechtig, “The Devil You Know” 
Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studios

Actress Hari Nef, writer-director Sam Levinson and actors Colman Domingo and Bill Skårsgard, “Assassination Nation” 
Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studios

Bill Skårsgard, “Assassination Nation” 
Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studios

Writer-director Sam Levinson, “Assassination Nation” 
Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studios

Actor Coleman Damingo, “Assassination Nation” 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studios

 

Actress Helena Howard, “Madeline’s Madeline” 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studio

Chris McGurk, CEO of Cinedigm 
Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studio

Director David Wain, actors Domhnall Gleeson, Tom Lennon, and Emmy Rossum, “A Futile and Stupid Gesture”  
Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studios

Emmy Rossum, “A Futile and Stupid Gesture” 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studio

Domhnall Gleeson, “A Futile and Stupid Gesture” 
Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studio

Director Brad Anderson, “Beirut” 
Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studio

Raul Castillo, Jeremiah Zagar, Sheila Vand, and Justin Torres, “We the Animals”

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studios

Author Justin Torres, “We the Animals” 
Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studio

Actress Sheila Vand, “We the Animals”

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studio

Actor Raul Castillo, “We the Animals” 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studio

Actors Maia Mitchell and Cami Marrone with writer-director Augustine Frizzell, “Never Goin’ Back” 
Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studio

Cami Morrone, “Never Goin’ Back” 
Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studio

Actress Augustine Frizzell, “Never Goin’ Back”

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studio

Actress Maia Mitchell, “Never Goin’ Back”

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studio

Director Jack Henry Robbins and producer Tim Robbins, “Painting With Joan”
Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studio

Co-writer and star Franchesca Ramsey, “Franchesca” 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studio

Producer Trey Ellis, “King in the Wilderness”
Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studio

Actors Valter Skarsgard, Lucian Charles Collier, Sky Ferreira, Jack Kilmer, director Jonas Akerlund, Wilson Gonzalez, and Rory Culkin, “Lords of Chaos” 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studio

Actor Valter Skarsgard, “Lords of Chaos” 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studio

Rory Culkin, “Lords of Chaos” 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studio

“Lords of Chaos” star Wilson Gonzalez 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studio

Director and co-writer Jonas Akerlund, “Lords of Chaos” 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studio

Jack Kilmer, “Lords of Chaos” 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studio

Joan Jett, “Bad Reputation” 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studio

Director and co-writer Daryl Wein, “White Rabbit”  

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studio

Actor Graham Verchere, actor Rich Sommer, co-directors Francois Simard, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell, writers Matt Leslie and Stephen J. Smith, actress Tiera Skovbye, and actor Caleb Emery, “Summer of ’84” 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studio

Caleb Emery, “Summer of ’84”

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studio

Actress Tiera Skovbye, “Summer of ’84” 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studio

Actor Luis Gerardo Mendez, “Time Share” 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studio

Actor Matthew Lillard, “Halfway There” 

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studio

Sarah Shahi, “Halfway There”

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studio

Previous Slide

Next Slide

Sundance 2018: Hilary Swank, Forest Whitaker and Armie Hammer among the stars shot by photographer Irvin Rivera in Park City

Photographed by Irvin Rivera for TheWrap at the Acura Studios

Read More

Please follow and like us:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: