On The Basis of Sex might imply a salacious intended topic but rather presents us with an earnest look at a life-long crusader for gender rights in the legal system of the USA, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. There is often films about those who have campaigned around race and more so in recent years around sexuality but the issues around gender have faded somewhat. On The Basis of Sex presents the viewer with something compelling yet stumbles into the well-worn grove of bio pics and leaves itself in the OK but not great category. Find out more in our review.
Ruth Ginsburg is a young law student at Harvard who struggles with sexism in her studies to become a lawyer. Yet when her husband is diagnosed with cancer and a hostile sexist workforce, she is forced into academia instead. Yet a case that allows her to test gender discrimination thrusts her back into the courtroom.
On The Basis of Sex offers a true story that is compelling on its own and on some level the movie sometimes to its detriment doesn’t want to add frills to that. Still great performance anchor the movie with Felicity Jones, Armie Hammer and Justin Theroux all bringing life to their real-life characters. Yet despite the performances it feels like we lack an understanding of many of them especially outside of Ginsberg. Even with Ginsberg one wants to understand her far more than the film allows. You never get the sense of her being an activist the way her daughter might be nor do you get any sense of the weight that discrimination has on her other than occasional exasperation.
Oh and what is with that blink and you will miss it Kathy Bates cameo?
Yet the movie itself eventually moves away from her life to a less than straight-forward, complicated and dry case at its core piece of drama. The great achievement of the movie is that it presents it in not only an interesting way but an understandable one. It gives life to the emotional plight of man looking to care for his mother but discriminated by the tax system based on his gender. Not every movie has to have complex ideas explained like Martin Scorsese or Adam Mackay in quirky clever ways, not that their work is bad just The Basis of Sex doesn’t do it in that way.
If the movie indicates anything in its closing minutes it is that Ginsburg’s life is filled with fighting cases like this, of battling for gender equality before becoming a Supreme Court justice. Yet On the Basis of Sex only kind of hints at them and one feels disappointed in it for not allowing more of this. Combine this with the previously mentioned lack of character work and somehow the overall product is lacking in depth and flash.
‘On the Basis of Sex’ Review Cheat Sheet
On The Basis of Sex is a film brimming with potential and while fine actors breath life into an interesting true story one leaves the experience both cold and probably only marginally wiser about the experience. Given the lack of films about gender in the current film landscape one fills this is a missed opportunity. It’s not a bad film but merely an OK one that I really hoped to like a whole lot more.
- Great performances
- Compelling true story that despite its complexity at times never speaks down to its audiences.
The Not So Good:
- Not enough character development.
- Nor enough about Ginsburg’s other cases