The Notorious R.B.G. Gets Another Showcase With ‘On the Basis of Sex’

Riding the success of the documentary ‘RBG,’ Focus Features looks to transform an astonishing life story into awards season gold.
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By  · Published on July 17th, 2018

Riding the success of the documentary ‘RBG,’ Focus Features looks to transform an astonishing life story into awards season gold.

In an era desperate for social change, it is often necessary to look to history for inspiration. Champions of equality and soldiers of progress have always walked amongst us, and their impact on our world can be seen from the greatest leaps of legal evolution to the minuscule alterations in daily culture. We need to celebrate their victories while still not ignoring the great wars ahead of us.

Earlier this year, documentarians Betsy West and Julie Cohen unveiled RBG, a film about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Spanning nearly her entire lifespan, tracking her contentious saga through the legal system and into her surreal, memetic existence as the “Notorious R.B.G.,” the doc is essential viewing for anyone struggling to find purpose in our ever-increasing misery spinning out of the political hellscape. Never has the voice of a dissenter been more important.

It should come to no surprise that Ginsburg has stimulated another act of cinematic revolt. Focus Features and director Mimi Leder (Deep Impact) have partnered in an effort to chronicle the gargantuan life of this American legend in dramatic biopic form. Based on the first trailer, On the Basis of Sex looks to recapture the same beats found in the documentary but with a little more Hollywood pizazz. Felicity Jones, who plays Ginsburg, and Armie Hammer certainly go a long way in adding that coat of glam to the proceedings.

While I do not think this film will surpass my enthusiasm for the doc (there simply is no replacing the real voice and presence of R.B.G.), I am incredibly curious to see this movie-movie interpretation of history. Fallacies marked as creative license are always bound to rear their ugly head, but if you can accept that as part of the game, On the Basis of Sex has the potential of stoking more fires than a doc that most mainstream audiences would classify as dusty, or God forbid, boring.

This film puts a heavy emphasis on the marital relationship between R.B.G. and husband Marty Ginsburg. Hard to blame them. Once you cast Armie Hammer in any role, it’s easy to get lost in his unparalleled charm. Marty was essential in stepping out of the way of Ruth so that her career could dominate their relationship and effect genuine social change. Still, this is Jones’ film to conquer, and hopefully, Leder will give her space to properly showcase the superhuman determination of R.B.G.

Maybe its time to start constructing your awards season spreadsheets. On the Basis of Sex is a definite contender this year. The surface may appear to be a typical, trite biopic affair, but there are plenty of left-turns packed into Ginsburg’s actual life to throw an audience a curveball. Jones and Hammer will exhilarate with their chemistry, and the passion for humanity kindled by their romance is likely to inspire even the most cold-hearted¬†theatergoer.

On the Basis of Sex hits theaters Christmas day.

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Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)