PLOT The story of a young women’s rights lawyer named Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
CAST Felicity Jones, Armie Hammer, Justin Theroux
RATED PG-13 (some adult talk)
PLAYING AT Manhasset Cinemas, Malverne Cinema 4
BOTTOM LINE RBG gets the full Hollywood treatment in this flattering, high-gloss bio-pic.
You’ve read her memoir, seen the documentary, maybe even bought a T-shirt. Now, add another piece of Ruth Bader Ginsburg merch to your list: She’s the subject of a Hollywood biopic, “On the Basis of Sex.”
And oh, how very Hollywood it is.
Written and executive produced by Bader Ginsburg’s nephew, Daniel Stiepleman , “On the Basis of Sex” stars Felicity Jones as the future associate justice of the Supreme Court and Armie Hammer as her husband, tax lawyer Martin Ginsburg. Restricting its focus to Bader Ginsburg’s very early years as a legal crusader for women’s rights, “On the Basis of Sex” tells an inspirational story of struggle that by and large rings true. (Much of it was covered earlier this year in the documentary “RBG.”) Something about this movie, though, feels too glossy, too perfect. Directed by Mimi Leder (“Pay it Forward”) with polished professionalism, “On the Basis of Sex” puts its heroine up on a pedestal but also traps her in amber.
But did the two leads have to be quite so sparkling and toothsome? Must they be always bathed in warm, Scotch-colored light? In its early scenes, set in the “Mad Men” era, the movie feels more like a well-dressed period piece than the story of a living person. (Jones never quite nails that Old New York accent; Hammer wisely declines to try.)
Nevertheless, they win us over — Jones ("The Theory of Everything") with her natural buoyancy, Hammer with sheer earnestness. There are also some good turns from the support cast. Sam Waterston, as a condescending Harvard Law dean, harrumphs indignantly; Justin Theroux is quite good as Mel Wulf, an ACLU lawyer with high ideals and sharp elbows; Cailee Spaeny plays the Ginsburgs’ tantrum-prone teenager, Jane (who is a Columbia Law School professor today). Charles Moritz, the man Bader Ginsburg counter-intuitively represents in a landmark gender discrimination case, is played by a woebegone Chris Mulkey.
“On the Basis of Sex” mostly tells us what we already know about its subject: She’s smart, stubborn and principled. We don’t get much insight into anyone’s personality or psychology here. Still, for Bader Ginsburg’s many devoted fans, this glowing tribute may be just the ticket.
Felicity Jones began her career in British television programs like “Servants,” then began edging into movies. Here are four films that trace her rise to stardom.
LIKE CRAZY (2011) A British exchange student (Jones) falls for an American (the late Anton Yelchin) and unwisely overstays her visa. At Sundance, Jones was singled out for a special grand jury prize, and the film itself won a grand jury prize in the dramatic category.
HYSTERIA (2012) Tanya Wexler’s period comedy about a 19th-Century doctor (Hugh Dancy) who invents the modern sex toy featured Jones as his young fiancee, Emily Dalrymple. USA Today called the film “mildly stimulating.”
THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING (2014) Jones turned in an Oscar-nominated performance as the wife of Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) in this acclaimed biopic. Redmayne won for best actor, but Jones also became a widely recognized face thanks to this film.
ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016) Having played the renegade Jyn Erso shortly after Daisy Ridley played the loner Rey in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” Jones made a short video to clear up any confusion. “I know we both have dark hair and talk funny to you Americans,” Jones said, but she assured viewers that “two young, British women can exist in the same cinematic galaxy.” — RAFER GUZMAN