The true story of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, her struggles for equal rights, and the early cases of a historic career that lead to her nomination and confirmation as U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice. (from IMDB)
It’s funny what can draw someone in to watch a biopic. For some, it may be the cast, for others it’s a genuine interest in our history, and for still others, it may just be wanting to know more about a certain well-known person (of whom they may even be a fan). For this reviewer, my interest in On the Basis of Sex was really a little bit of all of that. I’m not a big history buff by any means, but the solid cast and my only passing knowledge of who Ruth Bader Ginsburg is piqued my interest in On the Basis of Sex. It’s a film that focuses on Ruth’s struggles to be taken seriously with her pursuits in law (in a predominently “men’s world”), and her journey to taking on a case that would be a fight for equal gender rights in the workplace.
I’ll first address the elephant in the room for some who may see the title of the movie and immediately get the vibe it’s some vulgar exploration of one’s sexuality a la something one might see on a late night pay channel in the 1990’s. On the Basis of Sex gets its title from a paper Ginsburg wrote when prepping for battle in court. Her case was to help a man who was being penalized when it came to taxes because he couldn’t write off the caregiving he gave his mother, simply because he was a man and not a woman. It’s rather fascinating–and all stuff I either previously did not know about or had simply forgotten if it was covered in school–and director Mimi Leder and an all-star cast do a great job bringing this story to film. It’s true; 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story made me a Felicity Jones fan, and the fact she was stepping into the lead role as Ruth Bader Ginsburg was some of the appeal of this movie for me. Plus, I was curious about this time in American history and exactly what this fight might have looked like for her (and, let’s be honest, most Hollywood depictions of true stories are filled with creative liberties… but I digress). Jones is supported by The Lone Ranger himself, Armie Hammer, with Justin Theroux stepping in to offer legal counsel as a member of the ACLU. It’s a great cast, and each does their part well for making this story almost as entertaining as it is informative.
On the Basis of Sex is just as much an underdog story as it is a political, court room drama. It’s first and foremost a drama, but Leder gives the film a feel of “wonder” and patriotic duty to it. She makes you actually feel that what Ginsburg is doing is significant–if not heroic–and it’s presented in a way that doesn’t reek of a bitter political party stance, and instead focuses more on the roadblocks in Ruth’s way. Yes, in pretty much every case they’re men in power, but living in 2019, you can see what the limitations of Ruth’s day in age means for today. We know what she’s fighting for and what was at stake.
Jones is great at Ginsburg. She gives a rounded performance, and as a viewer, you can’t help but find some of her passion contagious. Hammer is a fantastic partner for Ruth, as her husband, and he does a great job embodying the kind of rights that Ruth was fighting for (like how he was often the at-home caregiver of their family, even doing most of the cooking for his wife and kids). The story itself isn’t for anyone who already doesn’t care for history or dramatic films, but, then again, I found this movie far more interesting than, say, last year’s The Post, from Steven Spielberg. The story here is intriguing, paced well, and even offers a musical score that adds to the experience.
The content for the film surprised me some. I suppose I expected some profanity and some potentially suggestive material, but some of the content seemed a little out of place. The language wasn’t pervasive, mind you, but I felt like a film of this nature would be more concerned with its eductational opportunities than anything. With that said, Theroux matter-of-factly tosses out the film’s lone “F” word usage, while there is some blasphemy and a mix of other colorful words and phrases. There’s also a brief love scene between Ruth and Marty that is more sweet than overtly sexual. During the scene, Marty helps her out of her puffy evening dress and they passionately kiss and embrace while still clothed (she’s in a long slip). They move over to the bed but the scene ends there. Overall, the movie falls firmly within the PG-13 rating in regards to content.
While On the Basis of Sex isn’t a movie I can see myself revisiting too often, it’s a solid production and a good dramatic film. If you like historical dramas, it’s definitely one of the better ones I’ve seen in recent years. Also, Ginsburg has done some incredible things, even for the faith, as she ruled in favor of Bible clubs in schools years ago. So it’s neat to see how her journey to the Supreme Court began, and how she overcame the hurdles she needed to to get there.
– John DiBiase (reviewed: 4/7/19)
Blu-Ray Special Features Review
On the Basis of Sex is available on Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital, DVD, and through the usual digital providers. Along with the feature film, the Blu-Ray disc includes the following extras:
A Supreme Team: Making On the Basis of Sex (6:24) – The cast and director Mimi Leder talk about working together and about Ruth as a person. Felicity talks about meeting Ruth and trying to capture the essence of playing these people without doing impressions. The featurette also covers the clothing design and shooting Montreal as NYC.
Legacy of Justice (3:04) talks about how Ruth is a revolutionary and how her fighting for gender equality changed the world.
Martin and Ruth: A Loving Relationship (3:04) also talks about equality being exemplified by Ruth and Marty’s relationship and how theirs was a great love story. (Marty passed away in 2010, but Ruth is still alive today.)
– John DiBiase, (reviewed: 4/7/19)
Parental Guide: Content Summary
Sex/Nudity: While married, we see Marty unzip Ruth’s dress and pull it off, revealing her slip underneath. The two kiss passionately as he picks her up and she wraps her legs around him. He carries her over to an lays her down on the bed as they continue kissing. The scene ends there; Professor Brown looks Ruth up and down, causing her to look down at herself and he tells her the firm is really close and the wives are easily jealous; A female student talks about a case where a man raped his wife and she beat him to death; After he makes a comment, a girl tells a guy he’ll never get laid again; During a conversation at a party, Marty asks why people were only getting engaged and not married. Someone comments that it’s just for the sex; We see a Cosmopolitan ad on a billboard featuring a teenage girl in bikini style underwear; Some guys on the street say something lewd to Ruth and Jane about getting her wet (it’s raining outside); A secretary tells Ruth her paper titled “On the Basis of Sex” “reeks of sex” and the wording will make the men reading it think of hormones and backseats and parked cars. She suggests she changes it to say “gender.”
Vulgarity/Language: 1 “F” word, 4 “S” words, 1 “J-sus, Mary, & Joseph,” 9 “h*ll,” 3 “*ssh*le,” 1 “Swear to Chr-st,” 2 “d*mn,” 1 “a” word,” 1 “For G-d’s sake,” 1 “b*tch,” 1 “b*stard,” 1 “Good G-d,” 1 “pr*ck,” 1 “d*ck”
Alcohol/Drugs: Ruth and Marty have wine at dinner; Marty, Ruth and their friends are seen drinking beer together socially in a pool haul; Marty opens champagne and pours some for himself and Ruth; Marty has wine while cooking; We see people having drinks at a party, Marty has a martini;
Violence: While playing a game of charades, Marty collapses ill; A female student talks about a case where a man raped his wife and she beat him to death.