This feels like a no-brainer for award season, so something felt off when there was no rumbling for On the Basis of Sex in the run up to the Golden Globes and early Oscar talk. This wasn’t a great sign, so when the movie finally went wide-release, I had to see for myself why this movie wasn’t making waves.
Ruth Bader Ginsberg (Felicity Jones) finds herself in the Harvard Law program, surrounded by men. She must fight to make herself seen, while her husband (Armie Hammer) gets through the program much easier. This movie follows Ruth’s journey through her first landmark case of sex discrimination, as she teams up with the ACLU (spearheaded by Justin Theroux) and must fight against former professors including Sam Waterston and Stephen Root. Her daughter (Cailee Spaeny) protests in the streets, while Ruth tries to make a difference in the courtroom.
The story of Ruth Bader Ginsberg is an interesting one and undoubtedly would make for a great movie, though it’s questionable if this is that movie. Felicity Jones does her best here, though it quickly becomes apparent why she wasn’t up for award consideration. She’s great but she’s not doing anything special here, she’s just playing a woman. It’s hard to compete against other actresses who are playing a character so different from themselves. Jones feels like herself, with a slight American accent.
She has a great chemistry, and kind of rivalry, with her on-screen husband Armie Hammer. Together they are fighting inequality but there’s some nuance to the fact that her fight is much tougher than his, as he’s able to make headway much quicker in some of these instances. Hammer does a great job, though again… seems just like himself.
The best part of the final is the climax, the most interesting and most engaging 15 minutes of the film. We also get one of the most impactful final shots of a biography that I have seen ever, something that I don’t think has ever been done. You’ll have to see it to understand.
Like I said above, while Jones and Hammer do a serviceable job, they ultimately don’t get much to do. Playing Ruth Bader Ginsberg doesn’t stretch any new muscles for Felicity Jones, it’s just a slight accent.
The other big problem lies with the script. Our entire story here revolves around one of the first cases to eliminate gender discrimination in a very specific way. And that’s it. We get a few lines of text that explain how Ruth Bader Ginsberg then went on to make a huge difference and get elected to the Supreme Court. We don’t see it, it’s an afterthought. Looking back, while this first case was pivotal, it might’ve been more effective to showcase a variety of cases throughout her career, culminating in something major. It feels rather uneventful, since it’s a relatively small case, even though it had massive repercussions.
Since the movie’s main court case is rather small, it feels a little slow throughout. We focus on minuscule parts of the proceedings that don’t really engage the viewer, leaving you a bit bored throughout. This is why I wish the movie zoomed out and covered a variety of cases throughout her life, that might have been a more interesting route.
On the Basis of Sex is a fine film but suffers from zooming in and focusing on a part of Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s life that unfortunately wasn’t too exciting to watch unfold. Both Felicity Jones and Armie Hammer do their best with the script but it’s ultimately a slow and boring journey. A true story of her life might’ve had the benefit of a faster pace and some more heightened moments to focus on. As it stands, this is a fairly unengaging biography.