When watching “On the Basis of Sex,” a biography about Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” don’t expect the first-rate story you’ve discovered in the documentary “RBG.” Expect Felicity Jones shining like a star as RBG, and how she deals with gender-based equality. This movie is either about one case or the million of cases to deal with this sort-of issue. You decide, but I think it’s about the millions all rolled in one.
The story here involves Ruth planning to open a gender-base case regarding a man named Charles Moritz (Chris Mulkey), who was denied a tax deduction for taking care of his ill mother. He’s part of the discrimination: that all women must be the caretakers and men must be the bread givers. In fact, this is an example of how unfair the gender-based laws were back then. She must issue the laws, while those, like Harvard Dean Erwin Griswold (Sam Waterson) and ACLU lawyer Mel Wulf (Justin Theroux), try to persuade her to give up. But she has the words and people to support her.
The movie also shows her in her early years at Harvard Law School with her husband Martin (Armie Hammer), whom she had to finish his work, due to his testicular cancer. They start a family, and move to New York for better law opportunities, including her landing a teaching job at Rutgers Law School.
And we also meet her daughter Jane (Cailee Spaeny), who starts off skipping school in order to attend some rallies, and often deals with her mother’s stern attitude. She ends up proving herself worthy as a young woman. These scenes kept me involved, and I was impressed with how Spaeny has improved herself lately, following her annoying role in “Pacific Rim: Uprising.” Her scenes with both Jones and Hammer clinches it.
The movie may not have the narrative sparkle you’re hoping for, but it does remind us about the gender-based issues in this world. Director Mimi Leder (“The Peacemaker”) guides Jones with the right intentions as RBG, and her dialogue brings her to life. I may not understand all the specifics of the laws in the Constitution, but I am able to thrive on their concepts, depending on what stories I hear.
Neither the words “Women” and “Freedom” appear in the Constitution, but they’re still important in our country. That’s what “On the Basis of Sex” is really about.