I had high expectations for Mimi Leder‘s "On The Basis of Sex", after all was being been dubbed as the Ruth Bader Ginsburg biopic. I can't think of more appropriate Oscar-bait. However, you hear that thud in the background? That's the sound of a well-meaning but mediocre film losing all steam and buzz after critics watch it.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg is played, in straight-shooting fashion, by British actress Felicity Jones. Natalie Portman was originally cast as RBG, a better pick, and the strain in Jones' performance is apparent. Bader's distinctive Brooklyn/Jewish accent is butchered by Jones as it awkwardly goes in and out of tune throughout the film. However, I must mention that if Jones was given a better script then maybe, just maybe, she would have been able to stretch her Oscar-winning talents a little further, alas what we have instead is a none-too-bright and conventionally rendered film that lacks any sort of subtlety and is, in fact, extremely manipulative as it tries to tug at the heartstrings.
Armie Hammer plays Ginsburg’s attorney husband Martin, a man that stood by his wife's side as the rest of the world shunned her abilities as a legitimate female lawyer. Leder’s film concentrates heavily on their relationship and mostly covers about 15-years in the life of RBG. The crux of the film is, more or less, her beginning studies at Harvard Law School in ‘56 (when RBG was 23) and ends with her landmark case arguing gender discrimination on behalf of the ACLU in the early ‘70s.
That lack of subtlety that I mentioned earlier on? Well, it transcends beyond the leads and into the side characters as well, especially the men who are, with the exception of Hammer's loving husband, rather caricatured and unsubtly sexist. Was that how it was back in the 1950s and 60s, maybe, I don't know, but the cartoonish nature of these characters does a major disservice to the film. Yes, RBG had to cope with major standard male sexist attitudes and gender discrimination for most of her young adult life, but was she really surrounded by Lifetime cartoons characters that posed as males? I highly doubt that.
I was skeptical about Leder being attached to this film, she's the director that gave us "Deep Impact" "Pay it Forward," and "The Peacemaker," yikes, and my hesitations were more or less confirmed by the end of this film. Leder is still stuck in '90s blah mode. The direction is rather artless, there's no vision to it nor is there any effort to try and surpass the Lifetime-movie sensibilities of its mise-en-scene.
Just stick with Betsy West and Julie Cohen‘s "RBG," the highly popular documentary about Ginsburg’s life and career, which is a much better movie. [C-]