The Ruth Bader Ginsburg Superhero Origin Story

‘On The Basis Of Sex’ Is Catnip For Feminist Cat Ladies

All hail Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, goddammit! If ever there were an unlikely member of our government’s legislative branch to achieve a “Kneel before Zod” place in pop culture, it’s this pint-sized liberal giant.

Rightly hailed as a brilliant legal scholar, confirmed almost unanimously by the Senate, the second woman ever to be seated on the nation’s highest court has also, regrettably, inspired an annoying millennial cult of personality. Her exercise book is a bestseller on Amazon, T-shirts with her face are ubiquitous, and her SNL doppelgänger delivers insult-comic “You’re Gins-burnt!” riffs. She’s become a superficial litmus test for woke purity. Scholarly assessors, beware: any opinions about the crusading octogenarian are now de facto moral referendums.


ON THE BASIS OF SEX ★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by: Mimi Leder
Written by: Daniel Stiepleman
Starring:  Felicity Jones, Armie Hammer, Justin Theroux, Sam Waterston, Kathy Bates
Running time: 120 min.


 

And now, in the same year that critically acclaimed documentary RBG earns more than $10 million at the box office, Hollywood delivers a lionizing biopic of the notorious Ruth. Clearly there’s an appetite for all things Ginsburgian. And damn if this picture isn’t a Come to Mama call for all the non-believers out there. You want more proof? In the days leading up to this film’s Christmas opening, RBG had surgery successfully removing cancerous nodules from her 85-year-old lungs. Because that Jewish grandmother is a baller, people. She’s gangsta. Deal with it.

Can I make you an omelet, Ruth? 

Director Mimi Leder, who gave E.R. its lively pulse back in the ’90s, applies the same brisk sense of urgency to this rousingly hagiographic drama that’ll be catnip to feminist cat ladies. Focusing on Ginsburg’s origin story, the film spans two decades that start with her first week at Harvard Law School and end with her arguing a gender-rights case in front of the august judicial body she would eventually join as a Clinton appointee.

The movie revels in popcorn moments, with preposterous on-the-nose lines like “Let’s topple the whole damn system of discrimination” and “You’ve been ready for this your whole life.” Playing her faithful husband Martin is hunky Armie Hammer, who calmly towers over Jones’ petite body, dispensing wise encouragement while literally wearing the apron in their kitchen. Sam Waterston plays a professorial Ivy League misogynist so dastardly he might as well be twirling a moustache. And Justin Theroux is the groovy head of the ACLU, once childhood camp friends with Ruthie but now the wary but willing legal muscle at her side.

Despite this cinematic battle royale between sneering prejudice and righteous fury, Felicity Jones navigates the way with her dignity intact. Quiet resolve is an apt description of her talents, a sense of fortitude that doesn’t lack doubt or frustration but doesn’t overplay them, either. She does her best and sometimes even succeeds at humanizing a deification.

“Neither is the term Hot Ruth Bader Ginsburg, your honor.”

Stephen Garrett

Stephen Garrett is the former film editor of 'Time Out New York’ and has written about the movie industry for more than 20 years. He is also the founder of Jump Cut, a marketing company that creates trailers and posters for independent, foreign-language, and documentary films.

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