This well-intentioned movie is a somewhat flawed one: its pace is a little slack, and sometimes it feels too predictably prepackaged. But Jones and Hammer keep the picture moving even through its shakier phases.
The casting of Jones as Ginsburg might have seemed like a good idea, but, as fine an actress as she is, she can’t quite manage to bring the future Supreme Court justice to life, perhaps because it’s tough to animate cardboard. She’s stiff and humorless.
It would be silly to expect this movie to achieve the cinematic equivalent of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s brilliance, but you can’t help wishing it had more to offer than righteous speeches and stirring glances, that it put a few more ideas in your head to go with that lump in your throat.
While it’s not exactly a sequel to “RBG,” the hit documentary from earlier this year, the film does seem designed primarily for viewers who just can’t get enough Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Viewed through that lens, On the Basis of Sex sort of works. As filmmaking, it’s clunky, but as fan service, it’s more effective.
The film’s middling but good intentions might be enough for the work to skate by unnoticed – but then Leder constructs an unforgivably sentimental finale that builds to a cameo from Bader Ginsburg herself. At that point, we must object.
The dramatic approach here is clear, efficient and entirely on-the-nose, with little time for anything that might distract from the hagiographic effort in play. Its sole purpose is to ennoble and proclaim a hero, which its subject almost certainly is. But it makes for notably simplified drama.
Is the film worthy of her? Not really. It’s informative, in a didactic way, but basically an exercise in hagiography, a skin-deep celebration of someone who has never settled for superficiality in her life’s work.
We’re typically never trusted to accept the reality of an icon’s life for what it is rather than what media consultants want it to exemplify. What the film’s real failing amounts to is any lack of interest in Ginsburg’s true superpower: Her inhuman, sleepless drive to do the work.
It’s Jones who really shines. She effortlessly embodies Ruth Bader Ginsburg with such aplomb that when she locks her steely eyes with the camera, you can feel it in your bones that this woman is about to change the world.
Abetted by a strong lead performance from actress Felicity Jones, the film stands as a monument to gender equality at a time when that subject has become a hot-button issue due to the upheaval associated with the “#metoo” movement.