On the Basis of Sex

Director: Mimi Leder

Starring: Felicity Jones, Armie Hammer, Justin Theroux

Release Date: December 25, 2018

On the Basis of Sex tells the story of a young Ruth Bader Ginsburg, played by Felicity Jones, who, despite finishing at the top of her class at Harvard Law School, couldn’t find a job after graduation. After being openly discriminated against in interviews, she started her career as a professor at Rutgers University. It isn’t until years later, when her husband stumbles across a very specific tax lawsuit that she is given the opportunity to practice law and make a change.

On the Basis of Sex is a very vanilla depiction of a story that had much more adversity and resilience than we see on screen. Director Mimi Leder tells a straightforward story of Ruth’s path to changing discriminatory laws on the basis of gender. It’s clear what she’s trying to accomplish and why it mattered so much. Vanilla is not a bad thing. In telling a story as significant as this one it’s important that the audience doesn’t get too lost and caught up in the finer points of all the legal lawyer stuff.

Felicity Jones and Armie Hammer as Ruth and Martin Ginsburg are delightful. Both deliver solid performances as the husband and wife and they feel like just that. Leaning on each other in their careers and parenting they are very much a team. The chemistry between the two actors is essential in making this on-screen marriage feel authentic.

Leder doesn’t spend a lot of time with their life before stumbling across this tax lawsuit that they later prove discriminates on the basis of sex.  The film flies over important life events — such as Martin’s cancer while attending Harvard, Ruth finishing school at Columbia — and important career moves to highlight the time they spent on this case in their fight for equal rights for women. As a result, On the Basis of Sex doesn’t give you the deep dive into Ruth’s life that the CNN documentary RBG does.

Biopics tend to fall victim having a specific formula. We see our lead in their early life before they really become who they are. In Bohemian Rhapsody we meet Freddy Mercury before he joins Queen. In On the Basis of Sex we meet Ruth and Marty while they’re at Harvard Law School. Next, we see the lead face adversity, have some lows and eventually overcome in the most crowd-pleasing way. On the Basis of Sex does not rewrite the formula on biopics but it does deliver an important story that changed history in our country. Once it hits DVD I expect every high school history teacher picks it up to show in class for years to come.

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