"On the Basis of Sex"
Directed by: Mimi Leder
Starring: Felicity Jones, Armie Hammer, Justin Theroux
Ruth Bader Ginsburg is having quite the pop cultural moment, as the subject of documentaries, merchandise and "Saturday Night Live" sketches, with millions keeping the sort of close watch on her health normally reserved for a loved one.
"On the Basis of Sex," starring Felicity Jones as the Supreme Court justice at the beginning of her activist lawyer career, doesn’t necessarily add anything new to the conversation. But as directed by Mimi Leder, it hits its dramatic and emotional marks with aplomb.
It’s an old-fashioned crowd-pleaser in the best possible sense: let’s be honest, if you’re going to make a traditional Hollywood movie about an underdog fighting an unjust system, it’d be tough to find a more appropriate subject.
Felicity Jones plays Ginsburg as the screenplay by Daniel Stiepelman traces her life from her first year at Harvard Law School through the frustrating experience of trying to find a job as a woman and a lawyer in 1960s New York City, her arrival at Rutgers University and, finally, a deep dive into the transformative Moritz v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue Service case challenging gender discrimination precedent that made her name.
The filmmakers take a straightforward approach to this story, with the events unfolding in a linear fashion, but sometimes that’s all you need. The odds facing Ginsburg are enhanced by visual flourishes, such as images in which she’s awash in a sea of besuited men. Her relationship with husband Marty (Armie Hammer) is affectingly presented here as a partnership of equals and the actors share quiet, vulnerable moments that are genuinely moving.
Most importantly, the keys to the success of "On the Basis of Sex" can be found in the way it distills complicated legal theories into palatable, commercial chunks and in how it presents its trailblazing protagonist as a real-life superhero. This might not be the most complex or nuanced way of telling this story, but it is legitimately thrilling to watch Jones’ passionate, studious Ginsburg smartly and shrewdly annihilate the patriarchal obstacles standing in her way.