by Catherine Courtney
I’m Ruth Bader,
Yes I’m the Real Bader
All you other Ruth Baders are just imitating,
So won’t the Real Ruth Bader please…. rise, court is now in session…
2019 is off to a pretty rocky start so far. It’s not as bad as 2018 – yet – but this film and the simply named documentary RBG have made these first couple of months a little more bearable. Honestly, when I was watching these movies, I actually forgot about Brexit.
The benefit that On the Basis of Sex has, is the subject matter herself – Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It’s hard to imagine being a pioneer of something… anything… in a society where it feels like most things have already been discovered. But the Notorious RBG was a pioneer, a champion and quite simply an all-round total badass. Eager to become a lawyer, she was one of the very first women to be accepted into the Harvard program where still all content was driven towards men and men alone. She triumphed at school before becoming a professor herself, and has spent her entire career advocating gender equality and women’s rights, and has changed actual laws in the US which have revolutionised the treatment of men vs women. Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Yep. Total badass.
In eOne’s new release, Felicity Jones steps up to the plate to take on this formidable role – who is surprisingly manifested in a simply small, quiet body. While she gets much closer to the character than Saturday Night Live’s Kate McKinnon does, there’s something so unique and special about the Original Ruth that isn’t quite tapped into in this role. She’s tough and determined, and Jones seems to walk with the air of owning a room – it’s the underestimation of Ginsburg’s peers that causes such a powerful impact.
There are some marvellously artsy shots such as the moment she’s the blue-blazered salmon swimming against the tide of black and grey male suits, but the magic of this woman’s story is in her words, and fortunately for this film her nephew wrote them all. This has given the story an insider feel, with sweet family dynamics and a mother-daughter relationship development that made me want to see more. Whether it was too close to home brings hesitation to the glossiness of the story, but it’s a story you want to believe in nevertheless.
One of the main beauties of Justice Ginsburg’s life is her incredible relationship with her husband, who genuinely glows in a limelight both separate and connected to hers. A man as sound as any young girl with a fluffy diary and a killer attitude could dream of – Handsome! Charming! Willing to do the dishes! Martin Ginsburg was a lawyer in his own right (and a very good one at that), climbing to the top of a tax career in New York and yet always looking next to him to make sure Ruth was achieving the things that she was capable of. It’s either luck or destiny that Armie Hammer was found for the role – a gentle giant, with eyes to melt any tough New Yorker judge, stories taller than petite Felicity and yet embodying a character that would happily put her on his shoulders so she could see and do more (suggestion for Hollywood’s obsession with sequels – On the Basis of Sex 2: Marty, Dreamboat Feminist…)
The film itself is a fairly rose-tinted version of Ruth’s story, with incredibly powerful moments zipped past like the difficulties that have washed off Ginsburg’s back throughout her life. A truly defining moment comes at the dinner table of the Dean of Harvard, who gets each woman enrolled that year to stand in front of her peers and justify why she felt she had the right to take a place in school that could have been given to a man. No, really.
Look out for enjoyable performances from Justin Theroux and Sam Waterston, while Cailee Spaeny ignites sparks in a very early stage of her career – possibly a name to keep an eye on in future roles. But my concern for the film is in the viewer’s previous knowledge of Queen Notorious, as this film centres around one legal suit and the ebb and flow of the story may come across as slow and dragging at points for those who don’t know where it’s heading. I hope the tiny moments of defiance that built this woman are noticeable enough to those who aren’t looking for them. Does she simply come across as a stubborn woman with an obsessive tendency or can the UK audience see her true majesty and fire? Here’s hoping that the film will inspire people to find out more about the woman that’s helped to change the world.
A woman like this make us look at the world today. Gender equality has made leaps and bounds, but is nowhere near the end of its battle. Do feminists and champions for human rights have to be loud and brash? Can you still be classed as a feminist if you don’t attend every march with a witty homemade placard? And does it have to be that only the voice of many can make a difference while the voice of the few will struggle to make a sound? I think Ginsburg would say no – anyone can be a champion, and anyone can do it whichever way feels right to them. And every voice, no matter how loud or soft, has a right to be heard. So, Ruth – I think I’ll spend my life trying to make mine worth listening to.
On the Basis of Sex is out now in cinemas nationwide.