Double Feature: On the Basis of Sex & RBG
Thursday, January 10, 2019 at 10:20PM
Abe Fried-Tanzer in Armie Hammer, Felicity Jones, On the Basis of Sex, RBG, Reviews, politics

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.

On the Basis of Sex: B-


Article originally appeared on The Film Experience (
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