Opening March 7, 2019
Directed by: Mimi Leder
Writing credits: Daniel Stiepleman
Principal actors: Felicity Jones, Armie Hammer, Justin Theroux, Sam Waterston, Kathy Bates
Harvard Law School 1956, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA: Dean Erwin Griswold’s (Waterston) incoming class address refers to a “Harvard man’s” importance, ignoring there are females in the audience, and has been for five years. Later, as one of nine women invited to a soirée Griswold hosts, Ruth (Jones) catches his attention. In class, Professor Brown (Stephen Root) notices Ruth firstly because she is married to second year student Martin Ginsburg (Hammer), and then for her intellect: “…is that an answer or a filibuster, Mrs. Ginsberg?” After Marty’s collapse, when they get the diagnosis, Ruth tells Marty, “We’re never giving up … I’m spending my life with you.”
Fast-forward to 1959, New York City: Marty works at a law firm specializing in Tax Laws, whereas after numerous rejections, Ruth finally accepts a Professorship job. Candidly, she tells Marty about the black Professor leaving, so Rutgers University is hiring a woman to maintain its minority quota.
Fast-forward to 1970: A number of events push at Ruth’s conscience, none more demanding than Jane (Cailee Spaeny). Therefore, the teenager accompanies mom to meet with Dorothy Kenyon (Bates), a fierce ACLU (America Civil Liberties Union) defender and attorney, primarily because the Ginsburg’s plan to defend Charles Moritz’s (Chris Mulkey) case before an appeals court in Colorado. ACLU’s Mel Wulf (Theroux) demands Ruth settle; finally, the client takes precedence. Therefore, Marty and Ruth, and Department of Justice Attorney Jim Bozarth (Jack Reynor) have a face-off. In her rebuttal, the three judges (Gary Werntz, Francis X. McCarthy and Ben Carlson) get an iota of Ruth’s prowess. The rest, as they say, is history.
Director Mimi Leder with Daniel Stiepleman’s (Ginsburg’s nephew) screenplay follows a distinct period in the remarkable Ginsburg’s life. Daunted by personal and professional challenges, Ruth emerges a stalwart champion for gender equality. Jones wonderfully portrays the young, energetic, indomitable and brilliant RBG; the cast is sterling. Cinematography (Michael Grady) and music (Mychael Danna) atmospherically match the periods/locations, and editing (Michelle Tesoro) is careful, concise. On the Basis of Sex puts history in perspective, bringing to the forefront just how much Americans owe Ginsburg. The beginning and ending sequences brilliantly bookend a moving, droll film. Whether in a biopic or documentary, Ruth Bader Ginsburg is fascinating, inspirational, and worthy of emulating. 120 minutes (Marinell H.)