On the Basis of Sex
There is undoubtedly a wave of feminism that began with the revelations of producer Harvey Weinstein and the backlash of the elections of such sexist politicians like Donald Trump in the US, Jair Bolsonaro in Brasil, and Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines. Undoubtedly art would imitate and even try and cash in on the cultural waves, and thus we have gotten a necessary bigger volume of female-centric movies this year with such examples as Ocean’s Eight, The Favorite, Bumblebee, and now On the Basis of Sex.
On the Basis of Sex is the long-awaited biopic of current US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg (Felicity Jones). The story begins in the 1950s with Ginsberg going to Harvard Law School amidst a nearly all-male class and reaches the 1970s when Ginsberg took on her first case that involved defending a man based on gender-based discrimination.
The film is directed by veteran Mimi Leder, who makes a welcome return to the silver screen after a ten-year absence. The director is able to give the film a formulaic balance that is able to bring the message and facts of Ginsberg’s life across to viewers clearly. However, the film ends up playing it too generic, not wanting to take many risks and essentially giving us a better-funded Lifetime film with an all-star cast. On the Basis of Sex falls into predictable pitfalls such as swelling the music too much in important scenes, or having the opposing lawyers be moustache-twirling villains; you nearly expect them to break into maniacal laughter when their scenes end.
The film’s cast is solid, but never rises above being very notable. Jones carries Ginsberg’s gravitas and Brooklyn accent with confidence, but we never get to see a true insight into her character. The film was written by the real Ginsberg’s nephew, and you feel like there’s not enough separation from the subject-matter to have this film unabashedly analyze its characters. That’s not to say that Ginsberg as an icon doesn’t deserve a praise piece, she is one of the few in American government today that does.
In the end, On the Basis of Sex plays it safe and is as by the books as a biopic can be. The story and subject matter are certainly inspiring when viewed through today’s lens. But one can’t help feeling that if analyzed ten years from now, one might not find anything cinematic that this film specifically stood out for; unlike its subject.