“You couldn’t have existed until now.”
Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s teenage daughter has just told off a cat calling construction crew. RBG stares at her daughter, who is striding into the street to call a cab. Oblivious to the rain and to the cab which her daughter is now impatiently waiting by, RBG sees her daughter with new eyes. Jane Ginsburg is an entirely new kind of woman: a woman that RBG could never have conceptualized, much less become, in her teenage years.
This is one of two running themes of On the Basis of Sex. The movie never strays from its biographical storyline, but the movie is also clearly built to remind its audience that everyone is a product of their time. Bader Ginsburg was one of the first women to ever attend Harvard and yet she found herself shocked by her own daughter’s ability to stand up to a perhaps less institutionalized part of the patriarchy. The groundwork laid by our predecessors allows us to become something that they could never have dreamed and sometimes that shocks our predecessors.
The second theme regards the importance of family and a strong partnership. Martin Ginsburg prepares meals, comforts his children, and encourages his wife to pursue her ambitious dreams. RBG also puts in her fair share of work around the house, is willing to sacrifice a degree to support her husband, and puts in twice as much work as any other Harvard students when her husband gets sick. Most notably, the give and take of the Ginsburg’s relationship is not something that the movie asks its audience to be impressed by.
Aside from Armie Hammer’s unfortunately benign interpretation of Martin Ginsburg, the cast of On the Basis of Sex is spot on. Felicity Jones’ performance (as Ruth Bader Ginsburg) is strong-willed, reserved, and funny. Her performance, which is great all around, was downright heart stopping when she curled up in a hospital bed with her husband: the love, sadness, and hope exuded in that moment has lingered in the back of my mind in the week since I saw the movie.
Justin Theroux excelled as an almost likable, smarmy Mel Wulf. Cailee Spaeny (as Jane Ginsburg) was a perfect teenager: self-righteous, emotional, and ultimately full of love for her family. Sam Waterston was…Sam Waterston. He was a believable Dean of Harvard, but I doubt that Waterston captured Erwin Griswold’s essence in any meaningful way.
The costume and set design were gorgeous. From the very beginning of the movie when Bader Ginsburg is highlighted as a bright blue spot in a sea of black suits, the movie is visually stunning. The clothing, furniture, and city scape of the 50s and 60s are lovingly and colorfully recreated, making the movie an absolute treat to watch.
Ultimately a feel-good movie by director Mimi Leder, On the Basis of Sex is well worth seeing. Much of Bader Ginsburg’s life and work go unaddressed, which, considering the scope of her life’s work, is to be expected, but the film paints a beautiful portrait of Bader Ginsburg and her family.
Holly P. is a twenty-something millennial who enjoys shouting at people on the internet, riding her bicycle, and overbooking her schedule. She prefers storytelling that has a point and comedy that isn’t mean. Her favorite movies are Aladdin, the Watchmen (even though the book was way better), and Hot Fuzz. She’s seen every Lord of the Rings movie at least a dozen times. You can follow her @tertiaryhep on twitter or @hollyhollyoxenfreee on Instagram. She’s also on Tinder, but if you find her there she’ll probably ghost on you because wtf is dating in the 21st century.
Have you seen ‘On The Basis Of Sex’? Well, what did you think?