In New York City, 1959, top-of-her-class, Columbia Law School graduate, Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Felicity Jones) is unemployable as a lawyer because she is the wrong gender. Husband Martin Ginsburg (Armie Hammer), Harvard Law School, an employed tax lawyer, tries to put a positive spin on Ruth’s teaching job at Rutgers University Law School. “You’ll teach the next generation of lawyers how to change the world,” he says. “No!” says Ruth, “that’s what I want to do!” So begins this “legal love story,” as critic Jana Monji calls it, in which Ruth and Marty find the one case they can argue together that leads to a landmark decision outlawing discrimination “on the basis of sex.”
Will the American Civil Liberties Union add its support to the Ginsburg case? How does Ruth and Marty’s 10-year old daughter Jane (Cailee Spaeny) help her parents? Will you want to applaud as this inspiring biopic ends and RBG herself appears on screen? I did.
As Ruth and Marty Ginsburg, Felicity Jones and Armie Hammer are an attractive couple, married with young daughter Jane when the film begins. Marty is the perfect husband and father — loving and tender to Ruth and Jane and, as we learn, a much better cook than Ruth. When Marty is hospitalized while still in school, Ruth attends his classes and types his papers, keeping up with her own academic work at the same time. Cailee Spaeny is precocious daughter Jane, already active in the feminist movement. “It’s not a movement,” she tells her mother, “if everyone is just sitting.”
Others in the smart cast include Kathy Bates as Dorothy Kenyon, pioneer civil-liberties lawyer and ACLU board member. Her advice? “Change minds first, then change the law.” Christian Mulkey is Charlie Moritz, plaintiff in the Ginsburg case. A single male caregiver for his elderly mother, he’s denied tax exemptions “on the basis of sex.” Caregivers, said the Colorado law, are female. Sam Waterson is Erwin Griswold, Dean of Harvard Law School and, later, US Solicitor General. Justin Theroux is Mel Wulf, legal director of the ACLU.
“On the Basis of Sex” celebrates Ruth and Marty’s perfect egalitarian marriage and the launching of Ruth’s trailblazing “Women’s Rights Project” at the ACLU. “You did it,” says Marty. “We did it,” says Ruth. Mimi Leder, first female graduate of the American Film Institute, directs, from a script by Daniel Stiepleman, nephew of RBG.
Rated PG-13 for language and suggestive content, “On the Basis of Sex” runs 120 minutes. Well-acted and inspiring.
“On the Basis of Sex.”
A legal love story —
How Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Began her courtroom glory.