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« Showbiz History: Hitchcockian Cop, Blige Strippers, and Keanu Replicas | Main | Interview: Ben Foster on "Leave No Trace" and Acting as Therapy »
Thursday
Jan102019

Double Feature: On the Basis of Sex & RBG

by Abe Fried-Tanzer

It’s not uncommon for documentaries and narrative features about the same subject to be released around the same time. In some cases, the impetus for a narrative film comes from the success of a documentary, as with recent Robert Zemeckis' movies the The Walk and Welcome to Marwen, which told the same stories as the hit docs Man on Wire  and Marwencol, respectively. 2010 saw concurrent releases of documentary Casino Jack and the United States of Money and the feature Casino Jack.

This season's double feature is undeniably inspired by the need to champion strong women in the face of divisive times. Who better than civil rights icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second female justice appointed to the Supreme Court, to serve as the figurehead for two very different movies in 2018?

On the Basis of Sex, expanding to wide release this weekend, is the second of the two RBG films this year. British actress Felicity Jones portrays RBG in a film that focuses on her early career and a landmark case she took that turned the tide against gender discrimination. Anyone who has watched the trailer has pretty much seen the movie, which follows an extremely predictable course from RBG’s determined early achievements, despite overt attempts to suppress the success of independent women, and a period of uncertainty before she had the chance to argue her landmark case in front of Supreme Court judges on behalf of women everywhere.

The documentary version, RBG, spans all of its subject’s career, explaining her origins and everything that got her to where she is now, working out with a trainer on a regular basis and having earned the nickname “The Notorious RBG.” Interestingly, both films start in a similar fashion, with quotes from those who attack RBG’s character and abilities played at the start of the documentary and Sam Waterston’s Harvard Law School Dean asking Jones’ RBG and other female students to share why they deserved a spot that could have gone to a man.

Both of these films serve a purpose in this political moment. RBG, which made the Oscar shortlists both for Best Documentary and Diane Warren’s song "I’ll Fight," is currently available on Hulu and the kind of fare that even those who aren’t normally accustomed to watching nonfiction might actually watch and enjoy. On the Basis of Sex, however standard a film it might be with unfortunate accent work by Jones, is a more mainstream, focused 'origin story,' if you will, of RBG as a young woman fighting for what she believed in when everyone tried to hold her down. Armie Hammer’s performance as a supportive spouse and the film’s inspiring final scene are the best reasons to see the scripted version.

RBG is the mature, near-finished product, showing what comes with hard work and how years of pressing back against what society expects and dictates can sometimes pay off in incredible ways. On the Basis of Sex is the cinematic, occasionally overdrawn version of the start of the battle, designed to set events in motion by showing obstacles that were far more prevalent – and, more importantly, legally condoned – than they are today. Film critics and diehard RBG fans, of which there are indeed many, are likely the only people who will see both. For those looking to pick just one, the documentary is the clear choice.

RBG: B+
On the Basis of Sex: B-

 

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Reader Comments (4)

Felicity Jones - terrible bland wooden plank of an actress. Still flummoxed by her Oscar nomination for The Theory of Everything.

Enjoyed RBG very much.

January 11, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterEvangelina

I haven't seen On the Basis of Sex, but I like Felicity Jones - I think she has a very cinematic style of acting. Thought also that she was as good as Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything. Plus it was so nice that she was rightly nominated in lead. She was also good in Rogue One.

January 11, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterEdward L.

I have to be honest — I cannot bring myself to watch any movie with Ruth Bader Ginsburg as the subject. I have panic attacks any time I even glance at her name in the news or on social media, so the thought of watching a movie about her for two hours and being constantly reminded that if anything happens to her in the next two years, that orange troglodyte is going to name her successor... it's just going to be a miserable time at the theater for me.

January 11, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRobert

I too like Felicity Jones a lot. Maybe because my first introduction to her was Drake Doremus' still beauty Like Crazy -- such an exquisitely captured snapshot of love. Love interrupted, love resumed and what happens after. Felicity was vivid, on-point, and persuasive. She should have been Oscar-nominated for her performance here but there were more high-profile actress performances that year so I know she won't get a chance despite rave notices from Sundance.

I saw On the Basis of Sex the week it came out amidst government shutdown. I realise I don't really know RBG's early life so I appreciated the back-story. Whether the fidelity to real life is as close as possible or greatly fictionalised, I was transfixed by the story. Felicity is, to me, convincing as a fiercely intelligent law student/law crusader. I particularly like her interactions with her daughter, and that "radical social change" scene, which quietly electrifies.

I want to see the RBG doc soon to complete the picture of the person dubbed as "The Notorious RBG".

January 11, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterOwl

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