While most Australians might be unaware of 85-year-old United States Supreme Court judge, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, to many Americans she is a living treasure.
And it seems her profile has increased more since the election of President Donald Trump and his subsequent power to shape the make-up of the Supreme Court.
Documentaries have been made about her, books written and T-shirts produced. Now there is a film, On the Basis of Sex, which starts with her legal training and ends with the first (of her many) sex-discrimination case victories in the U.S. Court of Appeals.
When we first meet Ginsburg (Felicity Jones), it’s 1954 and she is arriving for her first day at Harvard Law School, as one of nine women in an incoming class of 500. It’s clear that neither the dean, Erwin Griswold (Sam Waterston) nor her male lecturers want any women in their course.
Despite this bias, Ginsburg excels attending both her classes and those of her husband Marty (Armie Hammer), a second year law student, after he is diagnosed with testicular cancer. She also cares for the couple’s baby daughter.
When Marty gets a job in New York, she’s forced to finish her studies at Columbia. Despite finishing top of her class no firm will hire her, much to her frustration. Eventually she gets a teaching job at Rutgers and works with the American Civil Liberties Union.
The film then jumps to the 1970s when Marty, a successful tax lawyer, alerts her to the cause of Charles Moritz (Chris Mulkey), an unmarried man who has been denied a tax deduction as a caregiver for his ailing mother, the assumption being that all caregivers must be female. Ginsburg believes this is the one case that will change discrimination laws in America.
There are misgivings from several reformists including American Civil Liberties Union legal director Mel Wulf (Justin Theroux) and pioneering activist lawyer, Dorothy Kenyon (Kathy Bates).
However the Ginsburgs – with the encouragement of their teenage daughter Jane (Cailee Spaeny) – are determined to take the case. The film then follows the lead-up to their appeal in the U.S Court of Appeal and the couple’s ultimate success (this was the only case when the two appeared in court together).
Ginsburg’s presentation to the court is one of the film’s highlights, although interestingly it’s the one scene which she claims the film got wrong in insinuating that she hesitated!
Given the script was written by her nephew, Daniel Stiepleman, and Ginsburg herself appears in the final scene, she obviously allowed director, Mimi Leder, some dramatic license.
While Ginsburg’s career may be of most interest to Americans, On the Basis of Sex offers plenty for Australian audiences.
There’s the chance to see some fine performances led by Jones and Hammer. It’s also interesting to see the arguments of a case which ultimately led to the changing of hundreds of laws which discriminated against women. Then there’s the question – would Ginsburg be able to achieve what she did without such a supportive husband who did the cooking, helped raise the couple’s two children and encouraged her to overcome the barriers she often faced?
And finally for anyone studying, it shows even the `driest subject’, in this case tax law, can be revolutionary!
On the Basis of Sex opens in cinemas around Australia on February 7.
Visit travelwithjb-movie-reviews for more film reviews.
- movie, reviews
Subscribe My Newsletter
Unsubscribe at any time.