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“On the Basis of Sex” – RGB bio-segment – entertaining but sentimental


English actress Felicity Jones plays the Brooklyn-born Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as a law student, wife, mother and equality firebrand and Armie Hammer is quite appealing as Marty, Ginsburg’s supportive and adoring husband. (Courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment)


Blu-ray, DVD, Digital copy; 2018; PG-13 for some profanity and suggestive content; streaming via Amazon Video/Prime, FandangoNOW, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube

Best extra: “A Supreme Team” making-of documentary

I THINK one can safely assume that those viewers interested in, or admirers of, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg have already seen Betsy West and Julie Cohen’s fine documentary, “RBG.” If they have, then watching “On the Basis of Sex,” the biopic focused on Ginsburg’s breakthrough gender equality court case, will seem rather redundant.

Yes, English actress Felicity Jones does a good job playing the Brooklyn-born Ginsburg as a law student, wife, mother and equality firebrand, fighting personal instances of sex discrimination as she takes on the academic and legal systems. And yes, Armie Hammer is quite appealing as Marty, Ginsburg’s supportive and adoring husband. But is this a film that needed to be made for the big screen? It seems more fitting as a TV movie, with its rather one-dimensional sentimentality set to orchestral crescendos. There is no question that Ginsburg’s life story is tremendously inspirational, and everyone should see “RBG” to understand the hurdles this relentless, brilliant, tiny woman overcame to get where she did.

American Civil Liberties Union legal director Mel Wulf (Justin Theroux) and Ginsburg.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Felicity Jones) her daughter Jane Ginsburg (Cailee Spaeny) meet with New York attorney, judge, feminist and political activist Dorothy Kenyon (Kathy Bates).

“On the Basis of Sex” simply extracts one chapter in her life and dramatizes it in a conventional and predictable way. Written by Ginsberg’s nephew, the screenplay was bound to be a sentimental love letter to his revered aunt. And Mimi Leder’s direction doesn’t do anything especially interesting with the material. The supporting cast includes Sam Waterston, Justin Theroux and Kathy Bates, all pros doing their best.

This Focus Features Blu-ray transfer came from 2.8K digital cameras and mastered in 2K, presents extremely well-defined and detailed imagery. Colors are nicely saturated and skin tones always natural. The film’s DTS-HD soundtrack is also very good, with effects always properly balanced, music modulated, and dialogue completely clear.


They are rather measly, with the usual interview tidbits by actors and production team, spreading plenty of mutual admiration all over the place. At just over three minutes each, “Legacy of Justice,” focuses on Ginsberg’s achievements; and “Martin and Ruth: A Loving Partnership,” obviously deals with that very special marriage.

The making-of featurette comes in at only six-plus minutes. In it, Leder remarks that she felt “compelled” to tell Ginsberg’s story, because “I have felt discrimination … and had an immediate … and visceral … response to it.” Writer (Ginsberg’s nephew) Daniel Stiepleman notes that as he wrote the screenplay, he sent pages of it to his aunt for approval and corrections, such the type of shoes she would have been wearing on a particular occasion. Jones admits to feeling “an enormous responsibility to portray a real person.” She says she wanted to be “very true” to her.

Ginsberg gave Hammer a book of her husband’s recipes (Martin Ginsberg died in 2010), from which the actor cooked a meal for the crew. As is shown in the film, and laughingly discussed by her children in the documentary, Justice Ginsberg was not exactly a whiz in the kitchen.

Leder talks about shooting the film in Montreal – in 34 days – and later beams at the memory of RBG’s reaction to it: “She said it was magnificent!”

— Peggy Earle




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