We adore RBG here at TN, super hard. Every single American woman alive today and in the future are better off due to her tireless work. When you walk into On the Basis of Sex, you know as you’re watching Ruth Bader Ginsburg fight for gender equality that she becomes Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but that doesn’t stop the simmering anger you’ll feel during an early scene when the Harvard Law School dean tries to embarrass the female law students at a dinner party for daring to want to be lawyers. (I did a Google search on him and apparently he was considered several times for a Supreme Court appointment. But guess who actually made it and who didn’t asshole.) There are plenty of similarly infuriating moments in the film, but there’s also plenty to make you cry and quietly cheer in your seat to balance it out.
If you watched the documentary RBG you know what a beautiful partnership Ruth and her husband Marty had. That partnership is put to the test in a big way early in On the Basis of Sex, when Marty is diagnosed with cancer and is told he has about a five percent chance of survival. I thought about how hard that scene must be for Justice Ginsburg to watch — she’s seen the movie several times — looking at Felicity Jones and Armie Hammer clutch onto each other terrified, even with all the happy years she and Marty went on to have together.
Ruth takes on a heavy burden, continuing to go to law school, caring for Marty and their daughter Jane, and attending Marty’s classes as well. But when she graduates with countless accolades she can’t find a single law firm that will hire her in all of New York, even the man who is impressed with her telling her that he won’t hire her because the wives of the partners might get jealous. (There were lots of scoffs and similar reactions of disgust during scenes like this) So all those good Ruth and Marty feelings get pushed to the back burner and we’re back to fury.
But not for long! Marty remains Ruth’s dogged champion, encouraging her to never give up. It’s pretty tragic that if this weren’t a biopic we’d never believe a man like Marty existed. There are still plenty of modern men who don’t even come close to living up to his standard. Since I’ve seen On the Basis of Sex, I’ve been wracking my brain trying to think of other movies with similar husbands, and I came up with Juile & Julia, and….that’s it. Pretty depressing stats.
(There’s no real need for me to include this picture in the post, but it was the best thing to come out of the press tour, along with the knowledge that RBG was crushin’ on Armie big time when she first met him. She really is just a human woman after all! Ok, back to the movie.)
The movie also explores mother/daughter relationships in the way that the equally stubborn Ruth and Jane are often butting heads, as well as the dynamic between male and female coworkers. I think Justin Theroux perfectly portrayed ACLU lawyer Mel Wulf as a perfect example of the kind of man who fights for what’s right while adhering to plenty of harmful norms at the same time. When Ruth is practicing her legal argument on him, he tells her that the judges are going to see her as a “bitter, unlikeable shrew” and tells her she needs to smile more. Sure, working within those parameters might technically be the easier way to get what you want, but that doesn’t mean it’s right. (There’s a really great moment where he compliments Ruth on her paté, assuming that she’s the one who made it, when it’s already been established that she’s a terrible cook. Ingrained stereotypes are a bitch.) Unsurprisingly, he learns that Ruth was right, because of course she was, because she’s Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
If none of that gets you, the ending of the movie certainly will. (It’s been written about fairly extensively, but if you haven’t been following the press tour for this will be a spoiler, so if you don’t want to know, just stop reading now and go see the movie.) Felicity Jones ascends the steps of the Supreme Court as we hear audio from the real Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and as she passes a pillar, the real Ruth Bader Ginsburg comes out the other side. I knew it was coming, my Mom didn’t and we were both crying, so it’s not the element of surprise that gets you. It’s this badass woman who’s enriched our country beyond measure. It’s physically impossible to have too much RBG content in our lives, so get yourself and everyone you know to a theater this weekend.