On the Basis of Sex review – can’t do justice to Ruth Bader Ginsburg | Film

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There’s more to creating a flesh-and-blood biopic than simply giving an account of a life. Ideally there should be a holistic approach that transcends mere storytelling, an approach across the scope of the film-making that chimes with the personality of its subject. Think La Vie en Rose, for example, which so neatly demonstrated the way performance and life bled into each other for Edith Piaf. Or I, Tonya, with its brash, punchy editing and slippery trust issues in the screenplay. And it is this element – the sense of a mirror that reflects something true about its subject – which is absent from Mimi Leder’s portrait of US supreme court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the early stage of her career.

A now revered figure, Ginsburg evokes elegance and restraint, both in the calm precision of her statements and in her personal style. More significant is the legacy of her work, chipping tirelessly away against gender inequality. Bader Ginsburg is, in the most tasteful way possible, a revolutionary figure. But rather than attempt to convey all or, indeed, any of this in the film’s craft, Leder instead opts for lurching melodrama. This brilliant original thinker is crowbarred into a stolidly conventional “triumph against the odds” narrative. It’s not an entirely terrible film. It’s just not the film that RBG deserves.

A winsome Felicity Jones stars as Ginsburg over a period that starts with her entry into Harvard Law School and ends in the court of appeal with her winning the tax case that gave her the bedrock of legal precedent on which to build her career. Armie Hammer is convivial as Marty, Ginsburg’s devoted and supportive husband. And in a scene-swamping supporting role is an overbearing score that emphasises and embellishes in a way that is rather too soft-witted to ever really do justice to the justice.

Watch a trailer for On the Basis of Sex.

Source: The Guardian
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