“Changing the culture means nothing if the law doesn’t change.”
So says Ruth Bader Ginsburg, played by Felicity Jones, in director Mimi Leder’s latest film, “On The Basis Of Sex,” based on the 1972 case, Moritz v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, which was vital to overturning more than 100 years of gender discrimination.
To set the stage, Leder thrusts us into 1950s America, where women are allowed to study law at Harvard—but not without some residual resistance and with little-to-no luck finding a firm to welcome them after they receive their degree.
Bader Ginsburg rises to the top of her class, even taking on the workload of two students while her husband, Martin (Armie Hammer), battles cancer (the two of them are raising a child, to boot) and then steps out into the real world—to become a professor. Firm after firm denies her a position because she is a woman.
Fast forward to the 1970s. Now, with two children, the family carries on. Bader Ginsburg is still a professor, embittered by society’s mishandling of gender discrimination and teaching that very subject to young minds. Meanwhile, her daughter (Cailee Spaeny) has also blossomed into a feminist, even challenging Bader Ginsburg about her role in society.
And then a case appears that could change everything.
It centers around tax law, which is more Martin Ginsburg’s field, but he points the case out to Bader Ginsburg because it involves a man who is unable to receive tax deductions as a caretaker for his invalid mother. Here, we see gender discrimination from another perspective. Normally, the cases involve discrimination against women due to gender norms, but this one wrestles with the opposite, something that the Ginsburgs believe may interest the Supreme Court and help them win their case.
And so continues Bader Ginsburg’s fight for civil liberties and equality for men and women alike, a fight that even the ACLU at first is not on board with. Justin Theroux plays a friend in the ACLU who is unable to look past ingrained prejudice to risk standing by the defendant in such an uncertain case.
Jones brings a shrewd, confident energy to the role as Bader Ginsburg, and Hammer complements her perfectly. We see excellent supporting performances from Theroux (though he plays a friend, he is, at times, the emotional foe in the story) and Spaeny, who ignites the screen in her scenes with Jones. There’s even a fun walk-on from Kathy Bates as Dorothy Kenyon, a famous lawyer in support of civil liberties.
Leder has given us a fantastic depiction of society’s slow-but-steady cultural shift through this case. And while there is still so far to go, we can feel the effects of the work that Ruth Bader Ginsburg has had with this victory and with her work on the Supreme Court.
“On the Basis of Sex” plays this month at Midtown Cinema, 250 Reily St., Harrisburg. For more information, visit www.midtowncinema.com.
National Theatre Live presents
“Antony & Cleopatra”
Monday, Jan. 7 at 7 p.m.
3rd in the Burg $3 Movie
Friday, Jan. 18 at 9:30 p.m.
Down in Front!
Comedy improv riffs on
Friday, Jan. 25 at 9:30ish
“The Public Image is Rotten”
Sunday, Jan. 27 at 7 p.m.