Gins­burg biopic a riv­et­ing trib­ute

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - Showtime - Broward - - MOVIES - By Katie Walsh

2018 just may prove to be the height of RBG mania. The tiny and tena­cious 85-year-old Supreme Court Jus­tice Ruth Bader Gins­burg is a bright spot and one last sym­bol of de­cency in a po­lit­i­cal land­scape fraught with crime, cor­rup­tion and col­lu­sion. And peo­ple have found so­lace in her image. This year brought us both the doc­u­men­tary “RBG” and the biopic “On The Ba­sis of Sex,” di­rected by Mimi Leder, which chron­i­cles Gins­burg’s ris­ing ca­reer as a young lawyer in the ’70s. While there are none of RBG’s sig­na­ture dis­sent col­lars here, it fea­tures her ever-present pas­sion to change a world that’s de­ter­mined not to let her.

Writ­ten by Gins­burg’s nephew Daniel Stieple­man, “On the Ba­sis of Sex” is an in­ti­mate por­trait of the mar­riage be­tween Gins­burg and her hus­band, Martin, and the role their fam­ily dy­namic played in pur­suit of her ca­reer. Felic­ity Jones plays the diminu­tive, bril­liant Brook­lynite Ruth, while Ar­mie Hammer takes on the role of lov­ing hus­band Marty.

It’s re­fresh­ing to see a MPAA rat­ing: PG-13 (for some lan­guage and sug­ges­tive con­tent) Run­ning time: 2:00 biopic where the wife is the main agent of toil, change and strug­gle, where the hus­band is sup­port­ive, lov­ing, con­fi­dent — and cooks din­ner too. It’s re­flec­tive of the Gins­burgs’ re­al­life egal­i­tar­ian mar­riage, al­most never seen in Hol­ly­wood films. But the role is so much more than just the typ­i­cal gen­der-swapped “spouse on phone” roles most of­ten seen, and Hammer is a de­light as the sunny Marty.

The story po­si­tions the con­stant gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion Ruth faces while a stu­dent at Har­vard Law and in her job search as her pri­mary de­sire for want­ing to change the laws. But it’s her fiery teen daugh­ter, Jane (Cailee Spaeny), who mo­ti­vates Ruth to take it on. Through her daugh­ter’s ac­tivism, she re­al­izes the world is ready for women’s rights as civil rights.

“On the Ba­sis of Sex” is a biopic painted in broad strokes, like a fa­ble of sorts. The spouse is end­lessly pa­tient, the changes in heart are tele­graphed obvi- ously and the vil­lains — a troika of car­toon­ishly evil white male lawyers — nearly twirl their mus­taches in glee at the thought of keep­ing things in “the nat­u­ral or­der.” As a char­ac­ter study, it’s sim­ple, clear and lack­ing nu­ance, but as a le­gal dis­sec­tion, it’s fas­ci­nat­ing. The unique case, Moritz v. Com­mis­sioner of In­ter­nal Rev­enue, which the Gins­burgs ar­gued to­gether, serves as a Tro­jan horse in which to smug­gle in a le­gal prece­dent for gen­der equal­ity.

Leder di­rects the film con­fi­dently, swiftly and with a sense of straight­for­ward the­matic clar­ity.

Yet, for all its pre­dictabil­ity as a biopic and le­gal drama, it’s dif­fi­cult not to be rapt with at­ten­tion dur­ing Ruth’s dra­matic oral ar­gu­ment be­fore the court. The stakes are high. They need this prece­dent, for this case and ev­ery other case of gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion she needs to knock down. “On the Ba­sis of Sex” might be a rather broad biopic, but it beau­ti­fully ar­gues the im­por­tance of Gins­burg’s work — prior to the Supreme Court — and is a lovely trib­ute to the woman who would be­come the No­to­ri­ous RBG.

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