Review: On the Basis of Sex

PLOT: This is the story of a young attorney, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who begins her lifelong fight for equal rights for men and women.  

REVIEW: There is an abundance of a certain type of feature starting around October and running through the end of December. Once fall arrives, filmmakers and studios attempt to release some of their most anticipated when it comes to awards season. It’s no surprise that a movie telling the story of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg would be released during this particular period. And here we are, nearing the end of 2018, and we have yet another film biography arriving in theatres. Starring Felicity Jones as Ginsberg, Armie Hammer as her husband Martin, as well as Justin Theroux, Sam Waterston, Kathy Bates and Cailee Spaeny. How well does this Mimi Leder directed feature hold up? Continue on for my verdict.

We first meet Ruth (Jones) as she is making her way into Harvard Law – one of only a small handful of women accepted. She is smart and determined, as well, she and and her husband Martin (Hammer) are new parents. After graduating top of her class, she discovers that it is impossible for her to find a position as an attorney. One interviewer (Tom Irwin) even tells her she is incredible, yet he can’t hire her because the wives of the other attorneys would get jealous. Finally, she lands a position teaching as a professor. Frustrated, and more than a little inspired by her activist daughter Jane (Spaeny), she takes on a case of a man being denied tax deductions simply because he is man. This leads to her pursuit to change the laws that separate men from women.

on the basis of sex biographical drama mimi leder felicity jones armie hammer justin theroux sam waterston kathy bates calilee spaeny 2018Whenever you see a film that claims to be “Inspired by true events,” you’ll notice that there may only be layers of the truth. Oftentimes, it is very clear as to why they would change a true tale, but occasionally it seems strange that certain facts are altered. This film does exactly that. It’s a curious choice because the true story could have been just as interesting. Since the film spends most of its time on one case involving a man caring for his elderly mother and a tax deduction, it’s actually a bit surprising that they change it so drastically from what the case was really about – the true story revolved around a father and his child. Perhaps it was simply a way to put a little more emphasis on the love story angle, since Ginsberg’s real life husband was a tax attorney.

The biggest success of ON THE BASIS OF SEX is the impressive turn from the film’s star. Felicity Jones goes from a driven law student, to someone desperate to change the world beautifully. It is a terrific performance that makes this real life MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON style story work as well as it does. Adding strong support is Mr. Hammer. In real life, she was much shorter than her extremely tall husband. Once they establish this in a clever early scene, their on-screen dynamic becomes even more charming. Certainly it could have been a much different film, as Justice Ginsberg certainly has had an accomplished career, but this is an intriging focal point for a movie about this particular subject.

on the basis of sex mimi leder biographical drama ruth bader ginsberg felicity jones armie hammer justin theroux sam waterston kathy bates cailee spaeny 2018As far as the look of the film, Ms. Leder does a fine job of creating an inspirational story. While technically speaking this is a polished feature, it is not quite as dynamic as it could have been. Considering the impact that Justice Ginsberg has, it is a bit surprising that this story feels as small as it does. This is a very straight forward presentation, one that tells just a portion of what she had accomplished. Even still, the script by Daniel Stiepleman offers a few moments that are damn near cheer worthy. However, it is not going to be the movie that will blow away your conventional biographical movie expectations.

ON THE BASIS OF SEX is a very well made film. Felicity Jones is a perfect choice to play Justice Ginsberg, and she brings spirit and energy to her performance. Armie Hammer is also solid as her supportive and loving husband. The two actors are quite good together, and they manage to put a bit of a spark into Ruth and Martin. Again, the first scene that explored their height difference offered an incredibly sweet image. While Mim Leder manages to make an easy and entertaining two hour tale, you have to wonder what other stories that could come from this extraordinary public figure. Thankfully, this one is compelling enough as it presents her early life in a romanticized way. Ultimately, the real star here is Felicity Jones as the tough minded, but loving attorney hoping to change the world.

Review: On the Basis of Sex



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JimmyO is one of’s longest-tenured writers, with him reviewing movies and interviewing celebrities since 2007 as the site’s Los Angeles correspondent.