On the Basis of Sex

Review by Hannah Woodhead @goodjobliz

Directed by

Mimi Leder

Starring

Armie Hammer Felicity Jones Justin Theroux

Anticipation.

Not sure Felicity Jones is the best casting choice.

Enjoyment.

Curiously devoid of personality for a biopic.

In Retrospect.

A paint-by-numbers portrait of an American icon.

Felicity Jones takes on the mantle of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in this earnest but toothless biopic.

Affectionately referred to as ‘The Notorious RBG’ by fans, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is an enduring political and pop culture presence in the United States. Having fought against sexism and antisemitism to achieve one of the highest judicial offices in the land, it’s perhaps surprising that Hollywood didn’t get around to making a glossy biopic about her sooner.

Step forward Felicity Jones, the bright-eyed British actor who received a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her role as Stephen Hawking’s wife Jane in The Theory of Everything back in 2014. She’s cast as the indomitable Ginsburg, known for her diminutive stature and distinctive Brooklyn twang, but it feels like a strange choice, not least because she doesn’t pull off the accent.

Alongside her is Armie Hammer as Ruth’s husband and biggest supporter Marty, and the pair head up a progressive family in the late 1950s, with Ruth one of the first women admitted to Harvard Law School. What follows is a potted history of the Bader Ginsburg clan, covering Ruth’s uphill battle to raise her family while also contending with the pressures of a misogynist legal system, and tending to her husband following his recent cancer diagnosis.

It’s a difficult thing to condense a 60-year career into two-hours, and the uninspired formality of the narrative means that most of Leder’s film feels like it’s going through the motions, a cinematic rendering of a Wikipedia page biography.

By the time Ginsburg takes on the sexual discrimination case that kicked-started her career as a lawyer, we only really get a sense for how dull American litigation is. Justin Theroux has fun as Ginsburg’s friend and sometime adversary Mel Wulf, and the scenes of them butting heads provide a little colour in what otherwise amounts to a fairly dry affair, with little of the wit or personality which the real-life Ginsburg so richly possesses.

Even a cameo from RBG herself feels impossibly twee, a cringe-inducing rendering of what ‘girl power’ must look like to a room full of studio execs. If you’re really keen to learn more about Ginsburg, you might do better with Julie Cohen and Betsy West’s documentary, RBG.

Published 20 Feb 2019

Tags: Armie Hammer Felicity Jones Mimi Leder On the Basis of Sex Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Anticipation.

Not sure Felicity Jones is the best casting choice.

Enjoyment.

Curiously devoid of personality for a biopic.

In Retrospect.

A paint-by-numbers portrait of an American icon.

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