On the Basis of Sex

First Hit: Outstanding and moving film about one of the most inspirational women in United States history – ever.

In May of 2018, I saw and reviewed the documentary “RBG.” It was an amazing factual film about a woman who changed the course of gender equality in the United States.

In this dramatic version, we have Felicity Jones as Ruth Bader Ginsburg providing some of the drama behind the story of one of the most inspirational women to ever practice law in the United States. Today at 85 years old, and a Supreme Court Justice, she is still trailblazing how we look at the law and its impact on gender equality.

When the dean of Harvard Law School Erwin Griswold (Sam Waterston) invites the women who made it into his school, over for dinner at his home, he asks each of them to share why they deserve to take a man’s place at Harvard’s prestigious law school. It is a defining moment in the film to share with the audience how horribly sexist these institutions were towards women. Ginsburg’s answer is divinely dripping of sarcasm that went over Griswold’s head.

Ruth’s husband Martin (Armie Hammer) is also a law student at Harvard focusing on Tax Law. His support of his wife’s journey in law school is wonderful. Unfortunately, he contracts testicle cancer which he has only a 5% chance of beating, and Ruth, showing support, takes his classes and hers so that her husband doesn’t have to drop out of school while he recovers. Using the notes she took from his classes, she teaches Martin what he needs to know to pass his classes. She’s doing the work of two students as well as caretaker and mother.

Being a couple years behind her husband, he graduates and gets a job in a prestigious New York Cit law firm. This leaves Ruth with having to make a choice, raise their daughter alone and continue with law school at Harvard or moved with her husband and finish her schooling at Columbia. She chooses the later.

The film explores the unfairness of being a woman becoming a lawyer in this mostly man’s world. Additionally, it explores how her daughter Jane (Cailee Spaeny) is being affected by the changing culture of the 1960’s. We see how the dynamics of this culture change helped Ruth see the laws that needed changing and she found ways, with the help of Martin, to make her case to a State Supreme Court and to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Some of the scenes were amazingly poetic. Like when Martin hands a tax issue case to Ruth with the proviso, read this and you’ll see where you can make a difference. She did. I loved when Ruth takes Jane to see famed civil rights attorney Dorothy Kenyon (Kathy Bates) and upon walking back out into the streets, how Jane handles the harassing men and gets Ruth and her a cab. There were also a couple great scenes with Ruth and ACLU lead lawyer Mel Wolf (Justin Theroux). Lastly the scene in which she argues in the State Supreme Court for equal rights of a man was very well done.

For me the downsides of the film were, I would have liked Ruth’s first case in the U.S. Supreme court to be part of this film. Also, I found that Felicity’s accent fluctuations to be slightly problematic. Her voice lacked consistency.

On the upside when Jones gets ready to argue the main case at the State’s Supreme Court, she has Ruth’s look and feel down pat. Lastly, I loved the part where we see Ruth (Jones) climbing the steps to the U.S. Supreme Court and then see the real Ruth.

Felicity was very good as Ruth. Despite the accent variations, she brought a strength and character to Ruth and seemed to match the Ruth in the earlier documentary. Hammer was excellent. I loved his kind, thoughtful, and supportive lightheartedness he brought to this role. Spaeny was outstanding. I thought her portrayal of a young woman caught up in the movements of the 1960’s and also wanting to be respectful of her dynamic parents was sublime. I hope to see her in more films. Theroux was far better than I thought he’d be. My surprise is that he often takes sinister roles her here he shows a funny, smart, supportive side. Bates was sublime as with wizened civil rights lawyer who brings respect and a true grass roots feeling to the film. Waterston was excellent as the self-righteous sexist head of Harvard’s Law school. Daniel Stiepleman wrote a wonderful screenplay. Mimi Leder put the right touch on this film.

Overall: I thoroughly enjoyed this film as the first film of the year to see and review.