On The Basis Of Sex — 3.5 Gavels 74% Rotten Tomatoes

Jane Sharron De Hart, biographer of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writes the future Supreme Court justice “really thought through her demeanor and motives for all her future arguments. She would try to educate, she would not be confrontational or emotional, but she would try to bring the judges along to see the injustice of men not being able to get a benefit that women in comparable situations could get.”  However, in On The Basis Of Sex, written by her nephew, at times RBG comes off as snarky, unlikely for a lawyer trying to seek a favorable decision.

To get it out of the way, here are two articles fact-checking this movie, one by USA Today and one by Time.  Note that they come to different conclusions on whether or not RBG attended classes for her husband.  So much for fact-checking.  The bottom line is that if you want truth, you are much better off to see RBG, the documentary.  Finally, is the word “freedom” in the Constitution?  Of course it is, but here is a Slate article that gives the nephew’s explanation.

Notwithstanding the above, I enjoyed the movie.  Mostly, it is a love story, love of spouse and love of the law.  Non-lawyers may find the law school inquisition and oral argument preparation tedious, but for me, it brings back fond memories of shows like The Paper Chase.  I give the movie 3.5 Gavels and it receives a 74% Rotten Tomatoes rating with a 65% Audience Score.


In 1956, RBG enters Harvard Law School with 8 other women.  Her husband, entering his second year, is soon felled by testicular cancer.  Ruth must care for him, their classes, their child, and still excel.  Two years later, she transfers to Columbia Law school when her husband takes a job in NYC.  Despite finishing number one in her class, she can’t get a job at a law firm.  She settles for a job at Rutgers Law school.  Eleven years later, she has yet to represent a client.  Then, her husband finds a tax case which discriminates against a man, yet a case to set a precedent for women.

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Felicity Jones plays RBG, quite effectively, as a woman determined to fight injustice, even at the cost of burning some bridges.  Armie Hammer is her beloved Martin, clearly the more social of the two, and the better cook.  Cailee Spaeny, as fiery, determined daughter Jane, is the most interesting, perhaps because her character is really a composite.  Sam Waterston, as Harvard dean, later opposing counsel, seems too unpolished to be real.

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Final Thoughts

“Inspired by true events” gives an unlikely poetic license to our dear nephew.  Given the times, much of the dialogue is likely more “I wish I would have said,” rather than what was actually said.  RBG was much too savvy not to bite her tongue as her biographer points out.  Nevertheless, this well-attended Friday afternoon showing received an ovation from the viewers.  In real life, RBG would never flub an argument.  Still, her final statements to the appellate judges are quite moving.  RBG is certainly not the only reason that laws discriminating on gender have changed, but she deserves her due.  The nephew delivered.  I wonder if Dick (Vice) Cheney has a screenwriting nephew . . .

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