Director Mimi Leder's film takes a personal approach in detailing Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's first case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
"On the Basis of Sex" lends insight into Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's first case before the U.S. Supreme Court. And, ironically, it was that of defending a man who had been discriminated against for being a man.
Inspired by a true story, the film begins in 1956 when, at age 23, Ginsburg (Felicity Jones) is admitted into Harvard Law School. She was one of eight women to do so in a class of 500 students and experienced condescension at every turn. At orientation Dean Griswold (Sam Waterston) addresses the crowd opening with "What is a Harvard man?" Not only is Ginsburg up to the challenge, she's also a wife (and mother of his child) to Marty (Armie Hammer), a tax lawyer. When she transfers to Columbia Law School in New York to be with Marty, Griswold is not at all pleased.
When the case of a bachelor (Chris Mulkey), caring for his invalid mother, is denied a Social Security benefit because they're only awarded to widows, Ginsburg jumps on it. And when Marty finds a seemingly innocuous suit right up his tax alley, the two team up. They won. It was a landmark decision. And it changed 178 discriminatory laws on the books.
Director Mimi Leder takes a different approach in her film about Justice Ginsburg than others preceding it. It's more of a personal journey about how this amazing woman changed the course of history. Her ace-in-the-hole is that screenwriter Daniel Stiepleman just happens to be Ginsburg's nephew. The inside scoop provides the audience with details about the trials and tribulations endured by a dedicated individual who stood up for human rights and continues to be the voice of unwavering reason.
The supporting cast is impressive. Justin Theroux as an ACLU attorney and longtime friend of Ginsburg's, is surprisingly up to the task. Kathy Bates' small role as a legal crusader is welcome and sassy. And Cailee Spaeny is wonderful as Ginsburg's outlandishly outspoken daughter. But it's Felicity Jones' feisty, loving and luminous portrayal of this heroic woman that makes this engaging biopic soar.
Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, at age 85, is still fighting the good fight, thank goodness. "On the Basis of Sex" is a film that forces us to examine how important it is to have the people who appoint Justices to the Supreme Court be fair and honest. Take heed.