It’s been a big year in Hollywood for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Last summer, the documentary “RBG” was an interesting presentation of Ginsburg, showing her background and why she has become a rallying cry for many liberals across the country.
Now comes “On the Basis of Sex,” a bio picture that traces Ginsburg’s early struggles before she became a Supreme Court Justice.
“Sex” doesn’t have the same impact as its predecessor, as it’s a cookie-cutter, rubber-stamped exercise that really does nothing to shed any light into the life of Ginsburg. It’s Hollywood at its absolute worst, a film made for public consumption that seems important, but contains no substance whatsoever.
“On the Basis of Sex” traces Ginsburg’s early days – beginning in Harvard where her husband Martin (Armie Hammer) fell ill, leaving Ginsburg (Felicity Jones) to balance both their class work and raising their young daughter Jane.
Martin’s illness eventually goes into remission and he emerges as one of the top tax lawyers in his profession. While his career is on the rise, Ginsburg’s is stagnant. Now a Columbia graduate, she struggles to get her foot in the door at any law firm and eventually takes a job as a professor at Rutgers Law School.
But Ginsburg gets her chance in 1970, when Martin brings her a case about a Denver man denied a tax deduction for caring for his sick mother because of his sex.
Ginsburg sees this as a chance to put sexual discrimination into the forefront of the judicial system, perhaps breaking the glass ceiling she and other women had struggled to break through for centuries before her.
When “On the Basis of Sex” gets Ginsburg into the courtroom, the film works – giving the audience a true sense of RBG’s passion and importance to equal rights for everyone.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t come until very late in the film, with most of “Sex” telling some of the same stuff we saw in the far superior “RBG.”
The home life stuff feels more like a Lifetime TV movie than an exploration of Ginsburg’s struggles – with Daniel Stiepleman’s script so formulaic you could literally just insert fictional names into the story and no one would have known the difference.
For what it is worth, Jones is fine as RBG, but her performance never truly captures Ginsburg’s larger-than-life persona. Hammer is bland here, playing the stereotypical supportive spouse in such a vanilla manner it really undermines the chemistry needed between the two leads to make this work.
There are lots of familiar faces in supporting roles, including Kathy Bates, Sam Waterston, Stephen Root and Justin Theroux, but none of them make much of an impact.
It’s a microcosm for “On the Basis of Sex,” which wants to say so much about RBG, but ultimately says very little.