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On the Basis of Sex Review

When you stop to look at the incredible career of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, you can’t help but admire the work she has done to become the pinnacle figure for gender equality in the US. The film says that “A court ought not be affected by the weather of the day but will be by the climate of the era”, on that basis, there is no better time than today for the story of On the Basis of Sex to be told. This film has shown to us the frustration of R.B.G’s effort to achieve equal rights in a story that never steps of the passion accelerator.

This is a powerful depiction of Ruth Bader Ginsburg with the bulk of this power coming from a very passionate performance from Felicity Jones. I felt that she put in amazing work to portray Ruth as a hard-working lawyer fighting through the disadvantages of being a woman at that time, but the most astonishing moments is when Felicity lets slip the little annoyances in the character. She is fighting the legal battle of a generation and Felicity Jones draws out the stresses of a case like this takes on her character, raised voices and sharp movements come together to create this aura of strong determination.

Armie Hammer who plays Ruth’s husband Martin Ginsburg is another worthwhile performance. His character has the role of Ruth’s equal not just as a husband but also as a lawyer himself, he fights for his wife’s cause and they utilize their expertise in their respective areas of the law to make these sex discrimination laws unconstitutional. You feel this is a fight they both want to win but Ruth is taking the full force of the effects it is causing around them, their daughter Jane (Cailee Spaeny) is more radical than Ruth and is more about taking the issue to the streets rather than a courtroom, so when these two ideologies clash it becomes very compelling to watch.

It’s almost impossible to feel admiration for Ruth Bader Ginsburg by the end of the film, even before fighting for gender equality she had to endure some hard fights. She starts as a woman in a male-dominated Harvard Law School, her husband Martin is diagnosed with cancer so she takes on his classes as well as her own, she’s a mother of two, she has to fight the inequalities of actually being employed, there are so many battles and qualities about her that paint her into the classic profile of a strong woman.

Unfortunately, it’s this fitting into the classic strong woman character that causes all sorts of problems with the film itself. I felt that most of the time the film was purposefully blockading Ruth as an individual, in a way her character is the embodiment the whole fight for gender equality. I can see the argument of this being OK as she is a pinnacle figure, but On the Basis of Sex takes far too long to unravel her as an individual. For the first half of the film, I was begging for the story to reveal something about her as a person and not as a cause.

Furthermore, there are many tried and tested scenarios that paint the picture of sex discrimination in the film. For instance, in the opening scene, you have Ruth in a sea of male figures, she’s wearing a bright dress whilst the men are wearing dark grey suits. It reminded me of a scene in The Iron Lady, but that scene took place in the middle of the film when the character had already been established. In On the Basis of Sex, that introductory scene is used with little set up to when or where, if the film had properly set the scene, I wouldn’t be writing this point.

On the Basis of Sex is no doubt a good biopic, but it is also a brief biopic. The film only presents the early career of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and by the end of the film, you become so intrigued by her that you want to see more. There are plenty of cases in Ruth’s later career that can easily be shown in the medium of film and for a prolific figure such as Ruth, I think she’s earned the respect to have her whole story told rather than a snippet.

My level of respect for Ruth Bader Ginsburg has gone from knowing very little about her to wanting to know everything about her. When the film depicts how much work and dedication, she put in to shape our society today, you begin to understand why she has become so beloved in popular culture. Ruth makes an appearance in On the Basis of Sex and if I were a braver man, I would have stood up there and then in admiration for “The Notorious R.B.G”. Whilst On The Basis of Sex sends an inspirational vibe, I felt that maybe the character was bigger than the film and that it should have done more to present her brilliance.

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Sean McConville
My name is Sean McConville, I am passionate individual with 5 years of film studies and film making experience behind me and a lifelong interest in the art of film.