Starring: Felicity Jones, Armie Hammer, Justin Therous
Director: Mimi Leder
Running Time: 120 mins
On The Basis Of Sex is an American film about the story of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and her efforts to change outdated laws that discriminate on the basis of sex as she defends the rights of a caregiver who is being discriminated against for being a man in a groundbreaking case.
With a fascinating history that centres on an incredible figure, On The Basis Of Sex proves a riveting watch from beginning to end. With an intriguing and stimulating focus on groundbreaking legal history, as well as an engrossing personal story, it’s a great watch throughout. Thanks to an excellent lead performance from Felicity Jones and an enthralling screenplay that proves absolutely riveting, even though it occasionally comes off a little simplistic with its main social themes.
First things first, this film is most admirable above all for its detail and depth when it comes to the world of law and the importance of procedure and process in achieving major social change. Many movies try to spoon-feed the difficult concepts, while others just go it alone and hope you keep up (see The Big Short for examples of both), but On The Basis Of Sex hits a fantastic middleground that makes its story both deep and detailed, while remaining entirely accessible for a general audience.
Given I know next to nothing about complex legal protocol, I was hugely impressed at how much the film got me thinking about the importance and effects of legal precedence, something that allowed me to be all the more engrossed in the preparations for the case of a generation that form the base of the majority of this film.
As a result, On The Basis Of Sex is an entirely accessible biopic that still doesn’t shy away from getting technical, and that’s something I wish more films would strive to do, because it makes for a really interesting and engaging watch throughout, and plays in well to learning more about the history it’s aiming to tell.
That history, the story of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the legal foundations for the road to equality, is fascinating, and the film does well to make it an inspiring and thought-provoking piece, as you watch Ginsburg come up against numerous obstacles as she pushes beyond the boundaries to change perceptions towards gender roles in modern society.
In that, the film’s feminist themes work very well, and are never as pandering or preachy as lesser films have often made them. That’s because it ties that key theme in brilliantly with all the legalese that forms the core of the history, creating a grounded and assured case for itself, rather than being simply reactionary or provocative for no good reason.
With that being said, the way that gender discrimination and prejudice is presented here still comes off as a little simplistic at times. Of course, it’s a theme that we all understand well, but in similar fashion to Green Book‘s rather basic representation of racism, On The Basis Of Sex doesn’t quite hit home with the gravity of what is being achieved in the story at hand, failing to really represent the hardships and injustices faced at the time to give you a direct comparison for the future to come.
Still, a simpler approach to a very broad social theme isn’t detrimental to the film as a whole, and it’s the focus on the legal aspect of the story that really makes this film tick, something that I absolutely loved from beginning to end.
However, on top of all that, there’s also an engrossing personal tale to be told as well. While Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s home life is invariably tied to her fight for equality here, the film takes due time to make her a very well-rounded character, particularly in the film’s second and early third acts in which we come to understand some of her weaknesses that have the potential to work against her objectives.
All of that is furthered by a wonderful lead performance from Felicity Jones, who, on top of being hugely likable throughout, commands a great respect from you as the viewer. With a very assured and equally passionate performance right the way through, Jones makes you really look up to Ginsburg as a major historical figure, which arguably demonstrates the significance of this story even better than some aspects of the screenplay.
Overall, then, I was pretty impressed with On The Basis Of Sex. As a historical biopic, it’s a fascinating watch, made all the more engaging and riveting thanks to a detailed yet still accessible focus on the mechanisms of law. With enthralling feminist themes and a strong lead performance, it paints Ginsburg brilliantly as a significant historical figure, and even though it’s occasionally a little too on-the-nose with some of its ideas, it still proves a fascinating film regardless, which is why I’m giving it a 7.7.