Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a true legend of the American equal rights movement. Her resilience and courage led to a career that furthered not only women’s rights but also Americas standing in equal rights legislation and practice. Therefore, life as full as Ginsburg’s should have acted as nectar to a director. Providing us with a biopic that challenged and inspired in equal measure. Unfortunately, On the Basis of Sex manages neither, opting for a melodrama that delivers a mundane and formulaic film.
Focusing on the early career of RBG, the film does achieve some clear social commentary on the sexism rife with the legal profession in 50’s America, and the barriers faced by women in a society built on a boys club network. However, even these sequences feel hollow and offer little that is new or different to films that have previously focused on women overcoming prejudice and discrimination. Themes of oppression and barriers of opportunity are left hanging as we quickly shift through RBG’s time in college. There is little exploration of how these experiences helped build the personality or sense of determination present in the woman who would go on challenge equal rights in such a profound way. The film’s portrayal of family life also feels disjointed and oversimplified, never truly giving us insight into the role family life played in RBG’s career and aspirations.
Performances lack spark, opting for an almost melancholic tone at points where they should inspire, challenge and engage the audience. This is disappointing from such a talented cast, and while they all individually shine at points, the lack of a script that breaths passion into the subject matter, holds performances back from reaching their full potential.
Direction is solid but also dull, feeling formulaic and stayed in its approach, with cinematography that rarely captures a sense of place or time. These problems are furthered compounded by a score you hardly notice, that never plays to the subject matter and its emotions.
On the Basis of Sex should have been a biopic of passion, but instead delivers a disappointing mix of melancholy and formulaic drama that never ignites or inspires. A life as rich and outstanding as Ruth Bader Ginsburg deserved so much more