Reviewed for Shockya.com by: Harvey Karten
Director: Julie Cohen, Betsy West
Cast: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Bill Clinton, Orrin Hatch, The Notorious B.I.G, Gloria Steinem
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/3/18
Opens: May 4, 2018, Streaming August 28, 2018 and sure to be considered for awards votes beginning 11/29/18.
With whom on the Supreme Court would you feel most comfortable to have a beer? Roberts? Alito? Gorsuch, Kavanaugh? These four may be too conservative, even reactionary for you, assuming that you’re a progressive at heart, but that’s not to say they’re no fun. Remember that progressives and conservatives, even reactionaries, can have good times together. As we see from this biopic, the title character, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, had a remarkable friendship with Antonin Scalia though they were polar opposites in their legal ideologies. They were both opera buffs and even shared an elephant ride in India, quite a bit more time together than just enjoying a Bud Light. If you’re in your twenties or thirties, you probably can’t imagine sharing much with a woman 85 years old and give or take a couple of inches standing five feet tall, but whenever Justice Ginsburg speak before a group of high-school or college students she generates formidable electricity. If you can forget about the recent nomination kerfuffle involving Brett Kavanaugh, it’s possible that RBG is the only Supreme Court Justice that a broad sweep of Americana had even heard of.
Co-director Julie West, known for “American Veteran” (a veteran returns from the wars with serious injurious from an IED in Afghanistan) and Betsy West, at the helm of “The Lavender Scare” (President Eisenhower determines that homosexuals are a security risk) are able to express their progressive views again, teaming up for the picture with what will probably be the shortest title this year.
And the picture is a doozy. If you expect some solemn, government-issued coverage of one of nine Supreme Court justices, you are happily mistaken, because Cohen and West make sure to capture some of the key comic moments of Ginsburg’s life.
To be sure, some portions of the movie will deal with cases that were turning points in American jurisprudence, giving Ginsburg the opportunity to write dissenting opinions with the one-after-another 5-4 rulings. Most of all, though, the documentarians, who have caught key moments in her life, make this quite an entertainment while grounded in the RBG as a human being. Chief among her views is that men and women should be considered equal, getting the same pay for the same work and the same chances for promotions. It should be obvious to all that anything less than such equality is beyond the pale, yet in the case of Frontiero v. Richardson in 1973, a married woman had to fight the U.S. Air Force to get the same housing benefits as her male colleagues. In United States v. Virginia, a 1996 case held that women must be admitted to the Virginia Military Institute, or VMI. What woman even today would not appreciate given the choice of dating classmates when outnumbered by men by some 50 to 1?
The film quickly covers her childhood in Brooklyn, New York, her high-school days, and the higher education which allowed RBG to practice law and to climb the ladder to sit with the highest court in the land. Martin Ginsburg, her late husband, comes across as her leading cheerleader, which may have helped them to enjoy a marriage lasting over half a century. A Saturday Night Live sketch highlights Kate McKinnon’s gleefully impersonating RBG lifting weights, and so constantly in motion that she is virtually break dancing. And in fact to this day she works out in a gym with a trainer who gets her to 20 pushups at a time while a couple of women approaching her age joke that they could probably not be able even to get up from the floor—or even to get down to the floor!
As a badge of honor she was criticized by President Trump for saying that in effect the man is unqualified to sit in the Oval Office, and while not mentioned in this film, she joked that she might consider moving to New Zealand if he became President. Caricatures show her as Wonder Woman and other Marvel heroes, roles you would not expect for such a slight, quiet, woman, unassuming—that is until she shows her teeth in trashing some of the Supreme Court majority opinions that set the country back to the bad old days, according to progressives. She pulled no punches while interviewed by the Senate, which had the power to confirm or withhold Bill Clinton’s nomination of the woman, holding that women should have reproductive rights. Such a viewpoint in 2018 would probably have a nominee rejected by the world’s most prestigious club, yet she was confirmed 96-3.
It’s a pleasure to take in the full-of-life biopic of the Court’s most vivid, celebrated, and revered woman.
96 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B+