Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a hot commodity, especially in the #MeToo movement era, and “On the Basis of Sex” is yet another ardently enthusiastic puff piece about one of the most influential women of our time. The film is a standard-issue biopic that rings hollow, but will no doubt satisfy RBG loyalists and maybe even inspire a younger generation of females in the audience.
Directed by Mimi Leder, the straightforward film tells the rousing true story of Ginsburg (Felicity Jones) that starts with her college days as a young law student at Harvard. The film explores her relationship with beloved attorney husband Marty (Armie Hammer) and zeroes-in on one particular groundbreaking gender discrimination case that cemented her status as a champion for women’s rights. (The case in question is 1971’s Reed v. Reed, in which Ginsburg argued for equal protection under the law for men and women).
The film shines when it thoughtfully conveys Ginsburg’s unrelenting drive to succeed despite the sexist obstacles thrust in her path. It gets a little messy with its storytelling, and much of the performances and the script simply go through the required, anticipated motions. The film highlights the unequal treatment Ginsburg received throughout her life, yet never stoops at pulling a sympathy card because of her gender.
Leder refuses to color outside the lines here, instead giving audiences a crowd-pleasing if ultimately dull bit of cinematic flattery directed towards the beloved feminist icon.