FILM REVIEW: On the Basis of Sex

4 January 2019


FILM REVIEW: On the Basis of Sex

When struggling attorney and new mother Ruth takes on a ground-breaking tax case with her husband, attorney Martin Ginsburg, she knows it could change the direction of her career and the way the courts view gender discrimination. The film also chronicles the storybook-like romance between Ruth and Marty, a partnership that succeeded both personally and professionally.

Director: Mimi Leder
Year: 2018
Cast: Felicity Jones, Armie Hammer, Justin Theroux
Language: English
Runtime: 120min
Rating: PG13

Review by Jean Wong

Set in the 1950s to 1970s, On the Basis of Sex (2018) chronicles Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s (Felicity Jones) journey of her fight against gender discrimination in the law. Her story takes place while America was experiencing second-wave feminism, and perhaps is very relevant to our times where feminism has now become a huge social topic in our day to day lives.

As a woman — and a mother on top of that — Ruth faced plenty of discrimination and assumptions based on her gender. Despite graduating at the top of her class, she finds herself being rejected by countless law firms while her husband, Martin (Armie Hammer), is able to secure a job as a lawyer easily. Eventually, Ruth has no choice but to accept a job as a professor teaching law instead. Such continuous rejections and discrimination is shown to wear her down, and occasionally her bitter attitude towards the oppressive system slips through. However, she does not let that deter her, and she continues to fight for gender equality to raise awareness about its impact on half of the world’s population.

When Ruth stumbles upon a case of a caregiver being denied tax deduction due him being a man and thus unable to qualify as a caregiver, she sees the opportunity to use the case as a parallel to show the discrimination against women in law. Despite having people treat Ruth with much discrimination, discourage and even reject her plans to challenge the law, it is hard to say that there is a specific villain in the film. Each character believed that they were merely doing what they thought was best, whether for themselves or for the society. None of them had the intention to target Ruth specifically, and this showed how well-thought out all the characters were.

In fact, Jones and the rest of the cast each did a remarkable job at playing their own roles, and the interplay of their multifaceted characters was delightful to watch on screen. With such complex emotions being dealt with in the film, Jones plays an oppressed but determined figure stupendously. This really allows the viewer to connect emotionally with Ruth and root for her in face of all the obstacles thrown her way. The costume designer also did an excellent job at capturing the era of the 60s and 70s, as we see not only Ruth but the rest of the cast transition from tweed outfits to colourful ensembles that reflect the passing of time through fashion.

It is important to remember that On the Basis of Sex is inspired by the real life story of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who was the second female justice to be confirmed to the Supreme Court and had, for a period of time, served as the only female justice on the court. On the Basis of Sex really brings out the impressiveness of Ginsberg’s accomplishments for a woman her age at her time. In fact, Ginsburg has had her own documentary feature come out just last year that focused on how she pioneered the way towards gender equality for both men and women alike. A female director was chosen to work on On the Basis of Sex, which is a heartwarming choice seeing as the imbalance between male and female directors in Hollywood is still an issue to this day.

On the Basis of Sex will be in cinemas starting 10 January 2019.

Contemplative empath who sees wonder in the curious world. Has a habit of hiding behind books and occasionally dabbles in games, Netflix and YouTube. Is permanently attached to bubble tea.