On The Basis Of Sex
Stars: Felicity Jones, Armie Hammer, Justin Theroux, Sam Waterston, Kathy Bates, Cailee Spaeny, Stephen Root, Chris Mulkey and Ruth Bader Ginsberg as herself.
Director: Mimi Leder
Scriptwriter: Daniel Stiepleman
Composer: Mychael Dana
Cinematography: Michael Grady
Participant Media/Focus Features
Rating: PG 13
Running Length: 120 Minutes

The past two years has proved to be a popular one for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Not only was the well-received documentary “RGB” out in mid-2018, but now comes a film centering on Ginsberg’s court case of equal opportunity for women.  The title of the film comes from a legal phrase from Section 214 and the title of this review comes from Ginsberg’s nickname, “Kiki.”  Felicity Jones takes on the role of Ruth Bader Ginsberg and does well, giving us a determined woman who manages to run a household, care for a sick husband, attend his classes and go to law school, herself. As a professor at Rutgers, she reaches young minds and propels them into a new vision of law: equal opportunity for women. Armie Hammer is Marty (Martin Ginsberg), Ruth’s devoted husband and a fine tax attorney in his own right. Cailee Spaeny plays Jane Ginsberg, Ruth and Marty’s first child. 

The story begins during college years, when Ruth and Marty are married and have their first child. Ruth wants to enter Harvard Law School, that a few years before started admitting women as students. At graduation, the few women graduates are asked to speak about themselves and it ends up being a humiliating experience, inferring that they are taking the place of men in the legal work force. Marty is her supporter all the way, and we see the hardships she endures and biting comments about a woman wanting to be a lawyer. During these years, Ruth also takes care of Marty who was diagnosed with cancer. Even then, she can’t get a straight answer from a medical doctor. Marty recovers and eventually becomes a tax attorney.  He is always the popular one at parties, while Ruth tends to be by herself. She is an attractive young woman, petite, and ready to speak her mind, which is not popular then. Ruth begins to move up the ladder from graduation to finding a law job to teaching law at a university.  It is there that she hears of a case of an unmarried man who put his own work as his mother’s keeper on his income tax only to be challenged.  The law states that a woman can apply for this, but not a man. Therefore, Ruth tackles equal opportunity for men, too. It is this court case that makes a name for Ruth, and the audience goes through this tension-filled case as we see how “the old boy’s club” works. You know how Ruth’s life continues---she becomes a United States Supreme Court Justice. 

Felicity Jones gives us a woman who probably slept for short periods of time through the night for most of her life. Where else did she have the time for children, dinner, a husband and school work. She has wit and, since Marty was a tall man, comes about up to his chest in height. Armie Hammer’s Marty is in the background for a great part of the film, coming to the forefront when Ruth is established and he gains a foothold in the legal business. It is difficult for women to be taken seriously, and the comments toward her during her cases, shows the mindset of then…and sometimes you think it is still the same in parts of the country and workplace now. “The woman’s place is in the home. Period.” 

I found the study of law compelling and the intricacies of meaning that can be found is intriguing. Her age as a student, was the age of the typewriter for typing notes, and in one part, Ruth is persuaded to change the word “sex” as referring to the phrasing of the law then, to “gender” which would read better.  Thus, the assistant has to completely type the brief over. Today, women are in the Armed Forces as pilots, astronauts, and there are Supreme Court Judges, ministers, rabbi’s, race car drivers, and you name it. Equality is the key word. Literally, the sky is the limit. 

Copyright 2019 Marie Asner 


*Review of “RGB, ” the Ruth Bader Ginsberg documentary of 2018  is at the following: