On the Basis of Sex Jun 26, 2019 14:35:22 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on Jun 26, 2019 14:35:22 GMT -5
On the Basis of Sex (2018)
Directed by: Mimi Leder
Directed by: Mimi Leder
Felicity Jones is Ruth Bader Ginsburg in On the Basis of Sex.
It's partially unfair to compare a biopic about an important individual like Ruth Bader Ginsburg to a documentary on said individual that just so happened to be released the same year. Yet given the impact and scope of RBG — not to mention the (somewhat unfortunate) timeliness, as many of the causes she championed are still produce great controversy — it's hard not to see how the former would suffer by comparison. Having (still) not seen RBG, this mindset doesn't necessarily affect me when discussing On the Basis of Sex, but the fact that I emerged from it lukewarm does allude to the idea that, whether or not one has seen the aforementioned documentary, this film still leaves quite a bit to be desired.
Handsomely filmed and acted, On the Basis of Sex gets no points off for its sleek presentation. But this is another fairly pedestrian biopic about an extraordinary person; one that submits to cutesy-mutesy symbology at every turn, annoyingly so, as if affirming its relevance to the modern American landscape by metaphorically tapping you on the shoulder. Beyond that, many scenes consistently push for easy heroes and easy villains, with characters uttering mic-drop zingers manufactured to prompt cheers or jeers. Much of this undermines the film's production and elegant focus on the power of language at hand.
The film was written by Ginsburg's nephew, Daniel Stiepleman, so the perk of the picture is the idea that we do get a pretty accurate portrayal of the simultaneous confidence and uncertainty that defined the current Supreme Court justice during her early days a law school student navigating almost unanimously male-occupied waters, uncharted for women. Inside Ruth's life, however, there is a wonderful equitability between her (Felicity Jones) and her husband Martin (Armie Hammer), as the two are mutually supportive of one another through challenges that would drive most souls to go on their separate ways.
The film stars in 1956, showing Ruth as one of the first women to attend the newly co-ed Harvard Law School. Martin, too, studies at Harvard, but his cancer diagnosis handicaps his arduous classwork tremendously, not to mention his efforts to be a father to their children. This puts all of the weight on Ruth's shoulders, as she does her best to prove she belongs in an environment that sees no need for her, all while doubling up on classwork by helping Martin pass his classes, and of course, there's the sexist culture of mid-1900s America too.
A rocky education with circumstances that force her to transfer to Columbia (thanks to Sam Waterston's Griswold, the dean of Harvard), Ruth's time to shine ostensibly comes in 1970, when she finds the case of Charles Moritz (Christian Mulkey), an unmarried man who has been denied a caregiver tax deduction due to his gender. The backdrop of the country is one fueled not only by Civil Rights but the gradual rise of second-wave feminism, something Ruth's daughter (Cailee Spaeny) has gone on to embrace. Ruth feels taking on tax law could have a monumental impact for equal rights for the sexes, and boldly tries to get her due in court.
Tip of the cap to Stiepleman and director Mimi Leder — who was also the first female graduate of the renowned AFI Conservatory film academy — for choosing to focus on one of potentially dozens of chapters in the esteemed life of Ginsburg. This choice at least prevents the film from resorting to shortchanging her many accomplishments by making a greatest hits-esque compilation of them. In a small way, it's similar to how Steven Spielberg's acclaimed Lincoln nobly made the choice to cover the conception and passage of the 13th amendment as opposed to briskly dramatizing his many other achievements.
Another point of interest is the way Stiepleman juxtaposes the emerging ideals of Ruth's daughter Jane with her mother's in a way that doesn't look to undermine our protagonist but challenge her line of thinking — as I'm sure she did and still does. By doing this, we see the growth and modernization of Ruth's philosophies, as she sees young women on the frontlines like her daughter, forcing social change and equality for women while women like her and her idol Attorney Dorothy Kenyon (Kathy Bates in a great cameo) remain somewhat rigid and cynical about the likelihood of change. These relationships combined with the pleasantly narrow focus should've made for a film much easier to laud with no strings attached.
But as stated, those strings come in the form of dialog sometimes akin to the level of a B-grade miniseries, where the laugh-track is substituted by a momentary pause, long enough for someone to make a remark or react in an affirming manner. This is a kind of theater that leaves nothing to the imagination, and for all the courtroom scenes and parsing of legal language that helps guide our actions and values, there's too much that's far too easy to digest without applying any real substance to the conversations had between characters. I hate to say it, but Jones occasionally appears miscast, despite her usual conviction. On the Basis of Sex does its part to show the grind and thankless duties Ruth Bader Ginsburg went through in order to become the second-longest serving Supreme Court Justice at this point in time; if only her biopic could've been as consistently impressive, or at least as good as its nuances.
Starring: Felicity Jones, Armie Hammer, Sam Waterston, Cailee Spaeny, Christian Mulkey, and Kathy Bates. Directed by: Mimi Leder.