On the Basis of Sex movie poster
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On the Basis of Sex
On the Basis of Sex movie poster

On the Basis of Sex Movie Review

Now available on Blu-ray and DVD (Buy on Amazon)

The worst part about On the Basis of Sex is that the marketing got it all wrong. Ruth Bader Ginsburg has never been more popular nor widely known, and yet Focus Features didn’t name the movie Ginsburg or something that actually told you what it was about. Sure, the title relates to the future Supreme Court justice’s battle to eliminate gender discrimination from federal law, but every time I walked by a movie poster of Felicity Jones looking pretty in high heels, I had to remind myself what the movie was about and rarely had much urge to go out of my way to see it.

Most of my female friends, bleeding heart liberals who were super excited to watch RBG when it was released six months earlier, don’t even know this film exists.

And that’s why I’m so upset, because On the Basis of Sex is a damn fine movie.

Jones is terrific as a young RBG, an exceptional law student who struggled to find work as a lawyer because of her being, you know, a woman. Jones handles the character with reverence and fire, and her performance should be the talk of every young, blossoming feminist out there.

She’s matched by Armie Hammer, who delivers another great performance as her husband and partner. The movie takes great care to paint their ahead-of-its-time modern relationship, something that might not be quite so exceptional in most biopics but one that is important to both depicting who Ruth Bader Ginsburg is and how she views the world.

Director Mimi Leder does an excellent job giving insight into RBG’s early years, depicting her career struggles and passion for gender equality. On the Basis of Sex is undeniably your standard biopic and in turn follows a tried-and-true formula, but it is executed superbly and with class.

This isn’t groundbreaking cinema. But it’s quality cinema.

While Leder takes great care in establishing Ginsburg as a fully realized character, and in turn the pivotal case which put her on the map, the film’s one weakness is its depiction of her courtroom arguments. While I don’t know how it went down in real life, Leder’s decision to paint Ginsburg as an overly passionate and emotionally driven lawyer who couldn’t get out of her own way—only to overcome such limitations and deliver a killer argument with only minutes to spare—comes off as overly melodramatic, unnecessary, and ultimately disappointing.

Nonetheless, it was a minor issue amidst an otherwise entertaining and engrossing movie. I sat between my mother, who got her Master’s degree in the 1970’s and yet was largely offered clerk and secretary positions, and grandma, who for a time as a single mother couldn’t even got loans signed without a man’s authority. Both of them were bouncing in their seats as the movie unfolded over two hours.

For that alone, On the Basis of Sex was worth it, but it’s a well-made, entertaining drama that deserves more attention than it has received. And it’s not hard to see how this movie could have received more attention with, you know, better marketing and a better title.

In fairness, there is a sex scene, because we all know you wanted to see a sex scene involving Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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