Basis of Sex

Felicity Jones plays Ruth Bader Ginsberg in "On the Basis of Sex." (Courtesy) 

When the trailer of “On the Basis of Sex,” the biopic of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, came out, I actually got nervous. It came across like it was going to be an incredibly pandering film filled with nothing but over-the-top monologues and grandiose dialogue.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Then I realized that one of my favorite movies is Aaron Sorkin’s “A Few Good Men” and since that’s all that movie is, I figured this also would be fine.

“On the Basis of Sex” covers three key eras in the life of young Ruth Ginsberg (Felicity Jones).

The first era depicts her first years at Harvard Law, where she juggles being a student, wife and mother. She manages to become top of her class, even while attending her classes and those of her husband, Martin (Armie Hammer), who is fighting testicular cancer.

The second era depicts her struggle to find a job as a lawyer and settling on teaching law at Rutgers Law School.

Martin lands a job as a tax attorney, and he's a really good one.

The third era, and biggest part of the film, shows Ginsberg preparing and trying her first case. Martin brings her a file on Charles Montz (Chris Mulkey), an unmarried man who was denied a tax deduction for hiring a caretaker for his elderly mother, which allowed him to work during the day.

The reason for his denial was that Charles was an unmarried man.

Seeing a chance to fight against gender based discrimination, Ruth puts everything into the case.

She has an uphill battle to fight every step of the way. With support from Martin, her students and, most importantly, her daughter, she sets out to prove herself in the fight of her life.

“On the Basis of Sex” is directed by Mimi Leder, a veteran director who is known mostly for work in television, but also has helmed a handful of features, including “Deep Impact” and “Pay It Forward.”

The screenplay was written by Daniel Stiepleman, the nephew of the Ginsbergs. The idea to write the script came to him while attending Martin’s funeral and hearing the tale of the case depicted in the film.

I was worried the movie was going to go over the top and become more didactic than telling a cohesive story. Thankfully, it wasn’t.

It manages to not just be a great depiction of strong female characters but also a great legal drama and an examination of a love story that lasted over 50 years.

With some trimming here and expanding there, it could be a fantastic stage play.

As Ginsberg, Jones captures every bit of the spunk and passion the real Ginsberg has to this day. Her only flaw is her accent, which goes from New York to neutral with Jones’ real English accent creeping in.

Her performance is good enough to make me overlook that. Hammer, who I’ve always been a fan of, shines as a man who, while supportive, is not the big strong male crutch so many films rely on.

“On the Basis of Sex” not only defied my expectations, it kind of blew them away. It’s a well written drama filled with almost symphonic dialogue that ensures I will watch it over and over.

It may not beat you over the head with a message, but it definitely gets it across loud and clear.

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