Skip to main content

South Jordan Journal

Dan's Review: "On the Basis of Sex" sheds light on RGB's cause for equality

Jan 10, 2019 02:00PM ● By Dan Metcalf

Armie Hammer, Felicity Jones Justin Theroux in On the Basis of Sex - © 2018 Focus Features.

On the Basis of Sex (Focus Features)

Rated PG-13 for some language and suggestive content.

Starring Felicity Jones, Armie Hammer, Justin Theroux, Kathy Bates, Sam Waterston, Cailee Spaeny, Callum Shoniker, Jack Reynor, Stephen Root, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Written by Daniel Stiepleman.

Directed by Mimi Leder.



Ruth Bader Ginsburg has become a rock star of late. She’s the oldest and the second longest-tenured justice on the Supreme Court, not to mention the acting go-to dissenter among the group’s left-leaning sector. Her ability to express complex opinions with grace and intelligence make her one of the more lovable characters in government, to the point that her “Notorious RBG” cult status has taken over her skill to adjudicate. On the Basis of Sex is a new film based on a landmark case she argued that addressed the legality of gender-based discrimination.

Felicity Jones plays Ruth, a young mother and wife to Martin “Marty” Ginsburg (Armie Hammer), who is also attending the famed Ivy League school. Ruth is immediately confronted with all sorts of misogyny and pressures at Harvard and despite her own hurdles, Ruth attends classes for Martin after he gets testicular cancer. After graduation, she can’t find employment in any New York firm, due to her gender (despite her Ivy League resume). Ruth opts for a teaching gig at Rutgers but finds herself drawn to the cause of eradicating gender-based discrimination, which was legal at the time. She eventually finds the perfect case to challenge such laws: a dispute over whether a man could be denied tax benefits as a caregiver (Moritz vs. Commissioner, 1972). Ruth and Marty decide to argue the case together but have a difficult time convincing ACLU leader Mel Wulf (Justin Theroux) that gender discrimination is worth the same effort given to civil rights. With Ruth’s persistence, the Wulf and the ACLU eventually get on board, allowing Ruth to open up the Women’s Rights Project, a move that would methodically remove gender bias from the law books through a deliberate, measured process in the courts. The climactic Moritz case results in victory, setting off a series of other court challenges that eventually bring legal equality to women and men.

On the Basis of Sex is a fine film and a great example of how real change can be affected through persistence, decorum, civility and most importantly, an appeal to reason. Felicity Jones plays RBG very well, personifying her spirit of civil action over emotional urgency. The movie offers insight into where RBG got her resolve and persistence from and makes its point without embellishing or becoming too overdramatic. That said, without the gravitas of Jones, Hammer and director Mimi Leder, On the Basis of Sex could have been a Lifetime TV courtroom drama.

Many partisans may or may not agree with RBG’s legal legacy since her appointment to the Supreme Court, but On the Basis of Sex is a reminder of how one diminutive woman can gain great victories and great respect, without resorting to anger. Contemporary women enjoy equal freedoms because she was willing to win the long fight.  

On the Basis of Sex Trailer