On the Basis of Sex Reviews
Being under "house arrest" for the last few days allowed me to watch an unbelievable number of films. Let me start with this rather historically significant one. Though period films has its quite significant appeal to me, the amount of judicial jargon was just a bit too much for me to digest. Still a commendable narration of the milestones in the most recognised Justice of the US Supreme Court.
She has changed what it means to be a supreme court justice and abuses her position and uses it often times unconstitutionally or at the very least unethically.
It's no secret that I like bio flicks; there is something about delving into the life of someone and seeing monumental change from their perspective. This was no different. Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Felicity Jones) took the world by storm, albeit a rather slow one. Let me tell you just a little of what made this one of my favorite films of the year.
I would like to start with a little history of the person behind it all, the Notorious RBG! She wasn't the first female justice or even the first woman to attend Harvard Law School, but she may be the most important to have done either. Ginsburg had a lot of obstacles in her life and she championed them all. At a time when women were struggling to receive even the most basic rights, she was married, had a child, graduated with her bachelor's from Cornell University, and began attending Harvard as a full-time student (at one point she even attended her husband's classes as well as her own while he battled cancer). Her claim to fame is that she's an advocate for the advancement of gender equality and women's rights, but there's so much more!
If I were to knock the film for anything, it would be that it was too short (I realize two hours isn't that short), but you truly only see a drop in the life of one of the most influential women of our time.
Okay, I'll move on to a little about the film itself. This was probably one of the best ensemble casts that I can remember. With Jones leading the way in what I would consider one of the best performances of the year, her husband Martin Ginsburg (Armie Hammer) as well a mix of Sam Waterson, Kathy Bates, Cailee Spaeny, and several others make for a powerful punch.
One of the most interesting aspects while researching the film was that the director, Mimi Leder, is traditionally a director for TV shows/movies. Outside of a few exceptions (Deep Impact, and Pay It Forward), that makes it all the more impressive in my eyes that she was able to bring this film to life in the way she did. It helps when Daniel Stiepleman (Justice Ginsburg's nephew) writes the screenplay.
With gender equality playing such a large role in the film, I find it fitting that she doesn't struggle with this burden at home. Her husband is nothing but supportive in all of her pursuits, at times even giving way to let her shine because he understands that he doesn't have what it takes. He cooks dinners, runs errands, and is a father to their children when needed above all else.
As I mentioned earlier, my only issue with the film is that it doesn't cover more of this "superstar." She's transcended the role of a Justice on the Supreme Court and has become a true icon. The documentary released earlier this year, appropriately titled RBG, gave a very good look into the real struggles and life of Ginsburg. She's been emblazoned on shirts, action figures, coffee mugs, and other items. She's even being brought to life in LEGO form in this year's movie The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part. Once you've been immortalized as a LEGO, you've really made it!
I feel that Felicity Jones was born to play this role, even though it was one of the biggest detractors when I first saw she was cast.
Mimi Leder's On the Basis of Sex (2018) is an emotional biopic for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, while also a compelling courtroom drama. The legal conversations are meticulous in detail and logic as you might expect, while Ginsburg's own life feels secondary to the greater cause. While this may be apt for Ginsburg selfless career in progressing the rights of women, it makes the protagonist feel ordinary, instead of the extraordinary Ginsburg herself.
Leder's direction looks great, but feels like a shallow interpretation of Ginsburg's life story. For a 2 hour long movie, the pace is slower and there's a surprising lack of information. With steady cinematography and a few interesting shots, On the Basis of Sex tells this remarkable story in the most regular run of the mill way. The editing and score is well done with some surprisingly nice moments, but Leder's direction is merely adequate. I was impressed by the quality of her direction, but not by her lack of innovative directorial choices.
Now for the positives. Felicity Jones is wonderful as Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She captures Ginsburg's passion and reason as well as her quick wit. I think Jones absolutely nailed Ginsburg's Brooklyn accent, stern tone, and graceful composure. The way Felicity Jones rattles off legal jargon and tax codes is dazzling in every scene. Jones came confident and pulls off a captivating performance. I just wish the movie she starred in was as good as her acting.
Armie Hammer is kind and thoughtful with a cool supportive vibe to his take on Martin Ginsburg. His kindly approach to a rumored very likable man is appreciated and refreshing to watch.
Justin Theroux is excellent as the tough and pragmatic Mel Wulf. His distinct look and blunt delivery compound into a singularly intriguing character within On the Basis of Sex.
Sam Waterston is revolting as the head of Harvard Erwin Griswold. His reactionary thinking is repulsive and Waterston's performance is convincing as this backwards old man. I really appreciate how hard hitting and unrepentant Waterston plays him.
I should mention Kathy Bates is great as Dorothy Kenyon, if underutilized. The few scenes she's in are entertaining and enlightening. Bates shakes you with each line of dialogue with her poignant remarks of biting commentary.
Lastly, I would like to shout out the nice supporting role of Jane Ginsburg from actress Cailee Spaeny. She holds her own against Felicity Jones and Armie Hammer and makes for a fun foil for both characters.
Overall, On the Basis of Sex is merely a really good movie, when I wanted it to be a great film. It take on a brilliant and important part of history and tells it succinctly, but without presenting itself in a more interesting way. The acting is the real reason to watch as Felicity Jones kills it!