On the Basis of Sex doesn't do justice to Ruth Bader Ginsburg

by James Robins / 06 February, 2019
RelatedArticlesModule - On the basis of sex movie rbg

A new biopic of US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the moderate view of a woman who had no time for moderation.

If there was anything worth salvaging from RBG, the documentary about US Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg released late last year, it was in the retelling of her time as head of the American Civil Liberties Union’s women’s rights project in the 1970s. A run of cases brought Ginsburg before the highest courts in the land, arguing for an end to laws that discriminated “on the basis of sex”.

Mimi Leder’s competent yet formulaic biopic explores precisely that period. Felicity Jones plays Ginsburg as suitably self-assured and determined, though one might wonder where that infamous Brooklyn snarl went. Presumably, the same place she left her signature windowpane spectacles.

Standing stolidly by her side (when not doing duties in the kitchen) is husband Marty, amiably performed by Armie Hammer, and by all accounts their marriage was just as sunlit, doting, and, more importantly, equal as it appears here.

What really blights On the Basis of Sex – which was written by Ginsburg’s nephew, Daniel Stiepleman – is not its spirit or conviction, which are admirable, but its lack of imagination. The film runs through the regular motions of this sort of biography, structured with a series of convenient epiphanies and eureka moments. There is, inevitably, a montage and a courtroom culmination set to soaring strings. This is the moderate view of a woman who had no time for moderation.

IN CINEMAS FROM FEBRUARY 7

★★★

Video: Focus Features

This article was first published in the February 9, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

Latest

Fine lines: New Anzac books and graphic novels for kids
105028 2019-04-25 00:00:00Z Books

Fine lines: New Anzac books and graphic novels for…

by Ann Packer

A telegraph “boy”, heroic animals and even shell-shock make for engaging reads for children.

Read more
Keeping up appearances: The challenging job of restoring NZ's lighthouses
104978 2019-04-25 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

Keeping up appearances: The challenging job of res…

by Fiona Terry

Ensuring lighthouses stay “shipshape” isn’t a job for the faint-hearted.

Read more
The former major reuniting service medals with their rightful owners
105015 2019-04-25 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

The former major reuniting service medals with the…

by Fiona Terry

Service medals are being reunited with their rightful owners thanks to former major Ian Martyn and his determined research.

Read more
PM announces 'Christchurch Call' to end use of social media for terrorism
104952 2019-04-24 00:00:00Z Politics

PM announces 'Christchurch Call' to end use of soc…

by Noted

A meeting aims to see world leaders and CEOs of tech companies agree to a pledge called the ‘Christchurch Call’.

Read more
Red Joan: Judi Dench almost saves Soviet spy story from tedium
104942 2019-04-24 00:00:00Z Movies

Red Joan: Judi Dench almost saves Soviet spy story…

by James Robins

The fictionalised account of a British woman who spied for the Soviet Union is stiflingly quaint.

Read more
What to watch on TV this Anzac Day
104749 2019-04-24 00:00:00Z Television

What to watch on TV this Anzac Day

by Fiona Rae

Māori TV once again devotes the day to Anzac programming, including a live broadcast from Gallipoli.

Read more
Twist in the tale: Why Margaret Mahy changed the end of her classic debut
104490 2019-04-24 00:00:00Z Books

Twist in the tale: Why Margaret Mahy changed the e…

by Sally Blundell

The two different endings of the beloved A Lion in the Meadow still provoke debate. So which is better, the 1969 original or the later, kinder one?

Read more
Mapping the second brain: The latest science on the effect of your gut bacteria
104884 2019-04-24 00:00:00Z Health

Mapping the second brain: The latest science on th…

by Donna Chisholm

Most of us have heard the five-plus-a-day message for fruit and vegetables. But new research into gut health suggests that advice may need tweaking.

Read more