'On the Basis of Sex' (2018) Review: A Biopic Fighting the Law

By Ashley Velez

Crowds of suited men climb up the Harvard stairs making you wonder if you stepped into the wrong movie theater until you notice a woman on the screen trying to navigate to her seat. She searches the room spotting only 2-3 more women until the camera pans out showing an almost full class of Harvard men filling the remaining seats. It’s 1956, Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s first day of law school. Dean Griswold (Sam Waterson) welcomes the Harvard students and reminds them that the seat they are occupying is an enormous achievement. Ruth (Felicity Jones) comes home to her apartment where we meet her husband Martin ‘Marty’ Ginsburg (Armie Hammer) and baby daughter, Jane. It’s immediately shown that Marty is Ruth’s biggest fan as well as a strong character in the film. Ruth gets ready for a dinner hosted by Dean Griswold for the nine women admitted for the new class where we see Ruth encounter another moment demonstrating how odd it was at the time period for a women to be seeking a career. 

On the Basis of Sex at first appears to be a biopic of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but it is so much more than that. The movie spans from 1956 to early 1970s giving the audience an incite into what that time period was like. Ruth starts her law career as a teacher for Rutgers Law school because she was unable to get hired as a lawyer due to her gender, whereas her husband finishes law school and gets hired as a tax lawyer in a prominent law firm. Martin introduces Ruth to a law case involving a man unable to use the nursing care his mother received as a tax deductible because he was an unmarried man. Ruth recognizes this case as a man who is being denied a tax deductible based on his gender. Ruth wants to prove that how the court is treating his case is unconstitutional. In addition to the movie showcasing Ruth’s law career it also introduces the audience into the history of equal rights movements and the law. Ruth works though the case with the help of her husband and Mel Wulf (Justin Theroux) from the ACLU. The audience watches as Ruth struggles to gain evidential support on her case and encounters obstacles along the way.

The movie gives off a feel good feeling with a positive message. If you are like me then it makes you want to study more on what other accomplishments Ruth has been a part of in the country. Felicity Jones and Armie Hammer do a great job at showcasing Ruth and Martin’s strong, supportive relationship. The reason the movie may appear more realistic than some other Hollywood biopics may be due to Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s nephew, Daniel Stiepleman, is the screenwriter. The main characters are likable with a dialogue that makes it easy for the audience to understand the law. If you are looking for a movie that makes you feel empowered then On the Basis of Sex is worth watching.

Grade: A-


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