ON THE BASIS OF SEX sounds like a racy, hot and sweaty, steamy title. That’s exactly what it sounds like to a secretary typing up the court documents in the film, ON THE BASIS OF SEX. She correctly identifies the agenda is gender and not grinding groins. She pleads to have the allusion to pudenda and penises removed, not just on pedantic principle but as a point of equlaity and natural justice for all.
Inspired by a true story and written by Daniel Stiepleman, who is also Justice Ginsburg’s nephew, we first meet Ruth in the film attending Harvard Law School along with her husband, Martin. As she learns to balance life as a mother with her role as a law student, Ruth faces adversity in a male-dominated, often hostile environment, in which she is only one of nine women in her class.
At the heart of ON THE BASIS OF SEX, though, is the case that Martin – then a preeminent tax attorney – brings to Ruth. It involves Charles Moritz, a single man who is denied $296 on his tax deduction for being a male caregiver. “This is sex-based discrimination,” Ruth exclaims upon reading the case. “If a federal court ruled that this law is unconstitutional, it would become the precedent others refer to and build on.”
It was a case that declared discrimination on the basis of sex unconstitutional. And so as doors kept closing, she kept opening and opening them.
Felicity Jones brings the fire and fight of RBG solidly to screen and the affable and urbane Armee Hammer is terrifically solid as Marty.
A strong supporting cast that in includes Kathy Bates portraying attorney Dorothy Kenyon, a renowned feminist and one of the founders of the ACLU, Justin Theroux as Mel Wulf, head of the ACLU, and Sam Waterston as Erwin Griswold, dean of Harvard Law School.
And watch out for the real Ruth Bader Ginsberg as she mounts the steps of the Supreme Court in a sterling coda.
As fine as this film is, it cannot compete with the gobsmackingly great documentary, RBG, which is up for an Oscar this year in the Best Documentary category. A win would mean Justice For All.
However, as a primer, and companion piece, ON THE BASIS OF SEX should not be over ruled.