Reel Talk: ‘On the Basis of Sex’

January 12, 2019 GMT

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been the topic of conversation for decades, but never has a justice been in the limelight in a positive way quite like this before.

With the documentary “RBG” directed by Julie Cohen and Betsy West garnering awards and attention this year, the petite yet mighty Ginsburg is once again the focal point in a film, the biopic feature “On the Basis of Sex,” starring Felicity Jones and Armie Hammer.

This film, from my perspective, is a perfect companion piece to the documentary as it brushes over Ginsburg’s history, but then hovers over and deeply explores one monumental case — her very first one — and all the hoops she jumped through, over and around in order to begin to pave her path of gender equality for us all.

Screenwriter Daniel Stiepleman and director Mimi Leder team up to create a compelling and insightful story that endears us even more with Ginsburg and her story. The film begins similarly to its counterpart, “RBG,” giving us the beginnings of this remarkably intelligent and stalwart woman, facing more than her fair share of obstacles in life.


The story slows its pace to focus upon Ginsburg’s (Jones) time at Harvard, highlighting the inequities even at the prestigious graduate level of education with brutal humor. The majority of the story, however, delves into her time just out of law school as she struggles to find a job and settles upon teaching at the university level while raising two young children.

With the assistance of her dedicated and brilliant husband, Marty (Hammer), by her side, Ginsburg is made aware of an unusual case where a man was denied benefits because of his gender — the perfect scenario for Ginsburg to fight for equality.

“On the Basis of Sex” speeds forward, full steam ahead, with this particular case as the Ginsburgs discover various tactics and strategies to help not only win one case but set the precedent for future cases.

What stands out in this film, as with the documentary, is the love of Ruth and Marty. With Marty’s exceptional legal prowess, he could have easily overshadowed his wife, who equaled her husband intellectually but did not have his access; instead, he helped raise her voice and capabilities, leveling the playing ground for her.

Their relationship is just one of the beautiful aspects of this story. Additionally, raising a family can be difficult, especially with teens, and while the Ginsburg family really is no different than any other, Ruth and her daughter, frequently knocking heads, find the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. The film beautifully depicts the pride a mother feels not just with her daughter’s understanding, but with seeing how times are changing for the better.


Leder has an extraordinary cast which she artistically directs, enabling Hammer and Jones to embody the legal pair exuding love as well as humor. Taking us through time and the specific situations which were pivotal in the case and their lives, it is as educational and emotional as it is entertaining. Together, Hammer and Jones have an undeniable respect and chemistry that allows them to give authentic performances.

“On the Basis of Sex” is a standout film with exceptional performances to re-create a time in history that determined the future of women not only today, but tomorrow as well.

From my seat, RBG is a superhero, and thanks to the creative minds of both the documentary filmmakers and those behind “On the Basis of Sex,” we gain an understanding of our history, our times and our future — and we are better for it.

4 stars