As the saying goes, timing is everything. On the Basis of Sex, a well-intentioned biopic focused on the early career of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, it arrived too late. Released on the heels of last summer’s fascinating RBG, a comprehensive portrait of the Supreme Court Justice, earned a Best Documentary Oscar Nomination, and a spot on the list of top 25 non-fiction features of all-time. On the Basis of Sex wasn’t greeted with the same level of success or praise but evaluated on its own merits Basis is a well-acted, entertaining, slightly flawed film.
It’s 1956, and Ginsburg (Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything) is one of just one of the nine women attending Harvard Law School. During a dinner with the buttoned-up dean the female students are asked to explain “why you’re occupying a place at Harvard that could have gone to a man.” Basis is at best when it delves into the home life issues RBG couldn’t have because no footage existed. While at Harvard Law, Ruth and her loving, affable husband Martin (Armie Hammer) have a baby daughter. At that time, Martin becomes so sick that Ruth attended his classes as well as hers, completing the homework for them both!
From there, the film moves ahead to 1970, Ruth is teaching a course on Sex Discrimination and the Law at Rutgers, when she Moritz v. IRS gender discrimination case. Charlie Moritz (Chris Mulkey) is being penalized by the IRS for taking care of his aging mother, because he is a man. Ruth realizes that winning the case will enable her to begin overturning years of statutes unfair to women. It would also mark the first time Ruth Bader Ginsburg would argue a case in front of the Supreme Court.
Felicity Jones doesn’t look much Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the hunky Armie Hammer looks even less like her plump, supportive husband Martin. However, they both bring an earnestness to their roles that helps overcome that issue. Nonetheless, the cast can’t overcome the “paint by numbers” feel of the narrative. Director Miami Leder working from a script by Ginsburg’s nephew, first-time screenwriter Daniel Stiepleman), presents events in a rather dry fashion, some of which we seen before, in documentary footage of the real Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Again, timing is everything.
Despite criticisms, On the Basis of Sex is still worth seeing for fans of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The performances are solid, and it provides some context for important events in her life, both personal and professional.
Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer features an impressive level of detail, especially given the amount of period clothing. Close-ups reveal a hair out of place, pores, etc. The color palette is rather dark, emphasizing the decidedly masculine world of black and brown suits around Ginsburg.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track provides clear and concise dialogue, separating ambient sounds nicely. While the sound is front heavy, surrounds kick in to create an immersive feel when appropriate.
English SDH, Spanish, and French subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- A Supreme Team: Making On the Basis of Sex (HD, 6:24) Director Miami Leder shares what drew her to the film, Ginsburg’s script approval, cast performances, the shoot, technical details, and more.
- Legacy of Justice (HD, 3:04) Cast and crew discuss Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s place in history.
- Martin and Ruth: A Loving Partnership (HD, 3:04) A brief look at Ruth’s marriage, and how it serves as an example of the gender equality she fought so hard to gain.
- Movies Anywhere Digital Copy
On the Basis of Sex (2018)
Movie title: On the Basis of Sex
Director(s): Mimi Lender
Actor(s): Felicity Jones, Armie Hammer, Sam Waterston, Justin Theroux, Kathy Bates, Jack Reynor
Genre: Biography, Drama