ON THE BASIS OF SEX – Review by Susan Wloszczyna

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As biopics go, On the Basis of Sex can seem almost as old school as some of the laws that its worthy subject spent her career objecting to and sought to correct. That would be Ruth Bader Ginsberg, as the film is meant to celebrate her 25th year as the second female Supreme Court Justice. But as we watch RBG blossom into the notorious crusader against gender bias that she was born to be, one wishes that director Mimi Leder and screenwriter Daniel Stiepleman (Ginsberg’s nephew) took a few more chances in their approach to such an incredibly brave and smart woman whose super power was her cogent ability to state her arguments – a skill she eventually perfects in Sex just before the credits roll.

That said, English actress Felicity Jones steps up to the task of bringing to life this Brooklyn-born petite powerhouse, infusing her performance with zeal, honesty and believable feminine fortitude. Armie Hammer makes for the perfect supportive husband as tax law whiz Martin Ginsburg, even if he can’t hide his disdain of her early attempt at a tuna casserole. In fact, the whole cast– ranging from Sam Waterson as the chauvinist Harvard Law School Dean Erwin Griswold to Kathy Bates as Ginsberg legal mentor and civil liberties activist Dorothy Kenyon — lifts the material they are given. And I do appreciate Leder’s eye for fashion details as the times keep on a-changing, from Ginsberg’s seamed stockings in the staid ‘50s to her chip-off-the-old-block daughter Jane’s ‘70s-era miniskirts.

But I find it interesting that the one case that serves as the movie’s climax concerns not women’s rights but a single man being denied to legally get a tax break for hiring a caretaker to look after his ailing mother so he can work. The male legal team who collude to fight Ginsberg’s argument in court that her client is being denied a right because of his sex are just too on-the-nose with their sense of male privilege and superiority to ever consider they might actually lose their case. At least Ginsberg herself gets a juicy cameo at the end. The best way to get the most out of “Sex,” however, is to do a double feature with the superior documentary RBG, which has made the short list of eligible Oscar docs.

EDITOR’S NOTE: On The Basis of Sex is AWFJ’s Movie of The Week for January 4, 2019

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Susan Wloszczyna

In her nearly 30 years at USA Today, Susan Wloszczyna interviewed everyone from Vincent Price and Shirley Temple to Julia Roberts and Will Smith. Her coverage specialties include animation, musicals, comedies and any film starring Hayley Mills, Sandy Dennis or hobbits. Her crowning career achievements so far, besides having Terence Stamp place his bare feet in her lap during an interview for The Limey, is convincing the paper to send her to New Zealand twice for set visits, once for The Return of the King and the other for The Chronicles of Narnia and King Kong, and getting to be a zombie extra and interview George Romero in makeup on the set for Land of the Dead. Though not impressive enough for Pulitzer consideration, she also can be blamed for coining the moniker "Frat Pack," often used to describe the comedy clique that includes Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell. Her positions have included Life section copy desk chief for four years and a film reviewer for 12 years. She is currently a contributor for the online awards site Gold Derby and is an Oscar expert for RogerEbert.com. Previously, she has been a freelance film reporter and critic, contributing regularly to RogerEbert.com, MPAA’s The Credits, the Washington Post, AARP The Magazine online and Indiewire as well as being a book reviewer for The Buffalo News. She previously worked as a feature editor at the Niagara Gazette in Niagara Falls, N.Y. A Buffalo native, she earned her bachelor's degree in English at Canisius College and a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.