ON THE BASIS OF SEX is the second Ruth Bader Ginsberg movie to come out this year. Thankfully, they both work as companion pieces to each other because the second one is just titled RBG, and is just a good old fashioned documentary on her. This movie, is a Hollywood-ized, pampered up, layman’s terms, dolled up tale on one aspect of her life with those pesky end credit title cards to sum up the rest of her incredible career. While I would love to see a movie, hell, maybe a sequel (hopefully maybe even wait awhile so Felicity Jones can get older) of her path to get a seat as a Supreme Court Judge. But this will do for now. The reason why some critics aren’t having this is because of the Hollywood-ized version, and just like Bohemian Rhapsody, probably mostly a fictional account of true events, where everything probably happened a lot more slower and a lot more boring in real life. But I actually liked it. Yes, some movies should get a whip of the ruler to their wrist when dolled up movie doesn’t work that great in their favor (see: Bohemian Rhapsody). But movies like this, that know the perfect recipe to get butts out of their house to buy tickets and then sit that butt in a theater, are forgivable and at times, even really enjoyable.
Not to hark on Bohemian Rhapsody but, no matter what side of the entertainment spectrum anyone is on that film, everybody can probably agree that there was a better movie in there somewhere. Especially if they would’ve just focused on Freddie Mercury. Well, unlucky for that movie, it didn’t have a Queen/Freddie Mercury documentary to come out the same year. I have a sneaking suspicion that Focus Features got wind of the documentary coming out while they were developing this movie, and knew that since the movie was going to expand Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s entire career, that they needed to have more of a central focus on this. Because copying would be frowned upon. So this movie smartly just tells the tale on one aspect of her life that expanded a little over a decade: her early career trying to get work, and then taking a law tax case with her husband that deal with a middle aged, single, never married man being denied a caregiver tax break (he was taking care of his sick mom) based solely on his gender.
And the movie is good. It works. I was thoroughly entertained through out the whole thing. Everything law based was explained perfectly to the audience to get what was happening on screen. That aspect was basically the dolled up part of the whole thing. But if you took the dialogue and what really happened in real life and put it shot for shot up on the big screen, the real question is would you still be entertained? And the studio/filmmakers/producers definitely checked the no box as the answer to that question. In my opinion, probably a smart move when you consider that a documentary was coming out just months before the release. And both this movie and the documentary together make a one-two punch of a pretty decent double feature. If you’ve ever wanted to know the legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, you could do no wrong in watching both of these movies.
Now while the film was getting early Oscar buzz with Felicity Jones being nominated for best actress, and can tell you with 100% confidence that that is not going to happen. But that doesn’t mean she isn’t good. She is really really good here, and it is only heightened by the fact that she is playing a real person, someone with real character, which is better than her last film, where she played a rebel named Jyn Erso, that had absolutely no character development, and was just reading off lines the best that she could. Shit, I forgot what the little movie was called… Anyway, I digress, the rest of the acting is good here too. Armie Hammer is charismatic as Ruth’s husband, Justin Theoroux is quirky as Mel Wolfe, a high up contact in the ACLU, and Sam Waterson plays a great asshole per usual. It does list Kathy Bates as being in this film too, but she is in two short 3 minute scenes, an almost blink and you’ll miss it part. But she’s fine in it too.
I really only have one complaint about the film, and that is Cailee Spaeny, who plays Ruth’s 15 year old daughter at the time, Jane. Here’s the problem with that. By my calculations, Ruth Bader Ginsberg was 37 at the time her daughter was 15. Now, Felicity Jones is really 35, so being two years older is not a stretch for her or anyone. But Cailee Spaeny is 21…playing a 15 year old… When watching the film (she spouts out her character’s exact age at one point), I did not for one second believe she was 15 and I didn’t know that the actress was 21 at the time (I did research to see if my feelings were true). Her acting is just too mature for the role. She definitely doesn’t look 15 either. It’s the same problem I had with some of the Spider-Man films, specifically the Tobey Maguire ones. Tobey Maguire was 28 when he first played Spider-Man…and they started Peter Parker’s story when he was still in high school, 17-18. I didn’t for one second believe that Maguire was the age he was supposed to be playing in those films. Surely there was another 15 year old out there that could’ve played Jane and have her youthful looks be more convincing for the role with the same acting experience? The point is, I never believed that Jane was Ruth’s daughter in this. Felicity Jones and Cailee Spaeny look like sisters rather Mother and Daughter. Took me out of the film a couple of times.
But anyone reading this could chalk that up to a minor complaint, and I agree, it is. The movie is entertaining start to finish, it a lot of fun at times, and it is well acted. What more could anyone want? I’m not going to bash or discredit the movie for not being as monumental as Ruth Bader Ginsberg life probably really was. The filmmakers knew that the documentary was coming out, so they told a smaller section of her gigantic story. If there was anything I would’ve recommended to them before they released it is that I would’ve taken out the “in summary” title cards about the rest of her life. Doing that could peak younger people’s interest in her and do some digging to figure out that information all on their own. Or maybe seek out the RBG doc as a nice one two punch of a double feature. The should’ve left it just at the final shot, with a much older Ruth climbing up the Supreme Court steps, and hint hint, it isn’t Felicity Jones in make up. So if the real Ruth Bader Ginsberg agreed to a cameo, surely that marks her stamp of approval? Because, and let’s get real here, she doesn’t need the paycheck.