Movie Review: On the Basis of Sex

Alexa David-Lang, ‘22

February 2019

The first image that we see when On the Basis of Sex starts is a huge parade of men. We watch them go into the building and then we see a young Ruth Bader Ginsburg looking hopeful as she steps into her first class at Harvard Law School. As one of the only women at the school there are obviously certain moments of awkwardness such as the dean discussing the expectations of “Harvard men” and later, at a dinner party solely for the women accepted into Harvard Law. As Ginsburg struggles with this, the movie picks up the pace and goes through a few key moments of her life. What the movie does particularly well is highlighting how hard it was for Ginsburg to not only be a woman in a man’s world but also having to balance her home problems with law problems. She has to take care of her children, take care of her husband and even go to his classes when he becomes sick, even trying to transfer to another college and get a diploma from the previous one (she winds up getting two degrees from Harvard and Columbia Law).

But where we see her struggle most is getting rejected after applying to countless law firms who refuse to accept her solely for being a woman although claiming it was for other reasons. After not getting almost 15 jobs, she decides to give up and become a professor of law. While she’s upset to not be practicing law, she works there for a few years before her husband, who works in taxes, comes upon a case for her. In short, the case is a man who is not given a tax benefit because he is a male caregiver. Ginsburg works hard talking to many different connections and takes on this case because she believes that she can demonstrate that this is an unfair gender disadvantage and can be used as a springboard case to build upon when fighting for women’s rights in the future.

Looking at the form of the movie, there are many close-ups of Ginsburg as she thinks about major decisions or has a breakthrough. It is a tad bit stereotypical and it is a little bit overdone. It seems as if the movie is trying to be very dramatic and emphasize a “show don’t tell” dynamic with several extended moments of screen time with little to no dialogue and a series of close-ups. In addition to that, those are some of the few parts of the movie that drag on for too long. There are several shots of Ginsburg thinking or working, ones that could be cut off just a few seconds earlier to get rid of the awkwardness. The movie tends to drag on scenes longer than it should, trying to fit in a lot of legal terminologies that may have gone over viewer’s heads. This results in a few boring legal scenes that could have been summed up with a few legal terms and some highlights, especially since there are so many of them. I understand that this is a movie about the court and law, but they could also convey their same message in a much more concise way.

Overall, On the Basis of Sex is an incredibly well-written movie that only adds on to the increasing feminist movement going on at this time in history. It conveys the powerful message well, although it could be a little more to the point. The heart-warming connection between Ginsburg and her family only adds to the love that so many people already have for her. Being the second Ruth Bader Ginsburg movie that was made within the past few months, it is so great to see that people will be able to look back and see all of the hard times that she was forced to go through to get her job; something that we take for granted today. We are so lucky to have people like her to take risks and stand up for us. She worked so hard to be where she is today and it is amazing that the film industry has decided to take more time on telling these important origin stories. So if you’re looking for a movie to inspire your little girl to take on the world or empower your wife to do anything she wants or even just because you wanted to see what all the fuss was about, I suggest you check out On the Basis of Sex.

Movie Grade: 8.5/10