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On the Basis of Sex (2018)

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The true story of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, her struggles for equal rights, and the early cases of a historic career that lead to her nomination and confirmation as U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice.

Director:

Mimi Leder
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Popularity
681 ( 108)

Felicity Jones Reveals Her Film Idols

On the Basis of Sex star Felicity Jones take our Take 5 challenge, and reveals the actresses and characters she looks up to.

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Felicity Jones ... Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Armie Hammer ... Martin Ginsburg
Justin Theroux ... Mel Wulf
Sam Waterston ... Erwin Griswold
Kathy Bates ... Dorothy Kenyon
Cailee Spaeny ... Jane Ginsburg
Jack Reynor ... Jim Bozarth
Stephen Root ... Professor Brown
Chris Mulkey ... Charles Moritz
Gary Werntz Gary Werntz ... Judge Doyle
Francis X. McCarthy ... Judge Daugherty (as Francis Xavier McCarthy)
Ben Carlson Ben Carlson ... Judge Holloway
Ronald Guttman ... Gerald Gunther
Wendy Crewson ... Harriet Griswold
John Ralston ... Tom Miller
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Storyline

The true story of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, her struggles for equal rights, and the early cases of a historic career that lead to her nomination and confirmation as U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice.

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

Inspired by an incredible true story, of a woman who changed everything. See more »

Genres:

Biography | Drama

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG-13 for some language and suggestive content | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

11 January 2019 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

On the Basis of Sex See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$20,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$686,355, 30 December 2018, Limited Release

Gross USA:

$24,622,687, 7 March 2019

Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

$18,348,761, 21 January 2019
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Dolby Digital

Color:

Color

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The first case covered in Ginsburg's contracts class at Harvard Law School was Hawkins v. McGee (1943). This was also the first case covered in the contracts class in The Paper Chase (1973), also set at Harvard Law School. See more »

Goofs

In the 1959 scene where Ruth, Marty & baby Jane celebrate Ruth's job, they toast a glass of champagne and little Jane drinks a toast from a sippy cup. The "sippy cup" was manufactured by Playtex in 1981. See more »

Quotes

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: [testifying before the Supreme Court] We're not asking you to change the country. That's already happened without any court's permission. We're asking you to protect the right of the country to change.
See more »

Crazy Credits

The closing credits include some "What happened to . . . " of the characters. See more »

Connections

Referenced in Half in the Bag: Glass (2019) See more »

Soundtracks

Time Has Come Today
Written by Joseph Chambers (as Joseph Lamar Chambers) and Willie Chambers (as Willie Mack Chambers)
Performed by The Chambers Brothers
Courtesy of Columbia Records
By arrangement with Sony Music Entertainment
See more »

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User Reviews

 
May it please the crowd, "On the Basis of Sex" feeds the RBG legend more than it peels back its layers
21 December 2018 | by Movie_Muse_ReviewsSee all my reviews

Ruth Bader Ginsburg's catapulting from venerated Supreme Court Justice to cultural icon and patron saint of liberalism has unsurprisingly led to the release of two films about her in 2018, the documentary "RBG" and now the feature film "On the Basis of Sex." Both films mirror the public's fascination with the now-85-year-old and offer evidence that RBG warrants the obsessive adoration, but "On the Basis of Sex" feeds into the legend.

The film begins with Ginsburg (Felicity Jones) and her husband, Marty (Armie Hammer), in their newlywed law school days in which Ruth was one of nine women in her Harvard Law class of nearly 500, establishing context for the sex-based discrimination that she would fight in her career and the equal rights crusader she'd become. Yet Daniel Stiepleman's script incidentally positions the film as a career-spanning biopic this way, when in fact most of the film takes place close to 15 years later.

That's a surprise more than a flaw, as many of the film's best moments come out of a deep intellectual dive into the case of Moritz v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue and what Ruth, Marty and the ACLU's Mel Wulf (Justin Theroux) believed they had to say and do to convince three white male appellate judges to change the course of history. That's fascinating, but it's definitely not the advertised story of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and how she became a Supreme Court Justice.

When the film's not awash in legalese, it's trying to portray Ruth in a way that lives up to the "hype." There are lots of "ooh" and "ahh" moments as a character says something really sexist and Ruth has the perfect response, a device that kills it in a crowded theater but plays more into the myth of Ginsburg than the humanity. Jones, an outstanding actor, is left with the responsibility of trying to ground this prophetic character with a script that's lacking subtlety. Fights with her teenage daughter, Jane (Cailee Spaeny), for example, happen instantly to blatantly serve the purpose of the story, or Jane behaves in this perfectly feminist way that convinces her mother to solider on, punctuated by the camera holding on Jones so she can convey a moment of epiphany. It's the stuff of lesser biopics to be sure.

Nevertheless, "On the Basis of Sex" conveys the key details of Ruth's story and the social importance of her work and Moritz case. (It also can't be given too hard a time for taking liberties; Stiepelman is Ginsburg's nephew and she reviewed his script for accuracy.) In particular, the film captures the importance of Ruth and Marty's relationship. Even though Hammer is far too dreamy to play a tax lawyer, the film is clear yet not over-the-top in conveying the equality of their partnership and the support they provided to each other. Jones and Hammer are terrific actors, but director Mimi Leder deserves some credit for facilitating their chemistry the right way.

The film also succeeds in communicating the scope of sex-based discrimination in the U.S. as recently as the early '70s and the amount of cases that Ruth examined as director of the ACLU's Women's Right Project. The Moritz case was the first of a series of strategic moves to slowly change the legal precedents in sex discrimination cases, and the seriousness of changing minds and ultimately engrained beliefs about gender is not lost on the film and factors into much of the conflict as Ruth, Mary and Mel strategize how to frame their appeal.

Buried within their hero's crusade is an unheralded performance from character actor Chris Mulkey as Charles Moritz, the bachelor denied tax breaks to take care of his sick, dependent mother because as a man the law did not consider him a caregiver. Every so often during the verbally superfluous court scene, Leder will peak back at Mulkey, whose eyes remind us that what matters here is not about when a man or woman should or shouldn't be allowed to do, but what a human should be entitled to to take care of another human who can't take care of themselves.

"On the Basis of Sex" needs more graceful moments like this to complement its big picture, high stakes, "history in the making" focus. But while it somewhat settles for raising up the legend of RBG (again), it deserves credit for shining a strong spotlight on what it took to tip the scales of equal rights for women closer to justice and the woman who -- in supporting partnership with her husband -- dared to make the first push.

~Steven C

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