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On the Basis of Sex

Felicity Jones stars as a young Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who brings a groundbreaking case to the U.S. Court of Appeals that overturns a century of gender discrimination.
Mimi Leder
Felicity JonesArmie HammerJustin Theroux
English [CC]
Audio languages
EnglishEnglish [Audio Description]
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Supporting actors
Jack ReynorCailee SpaenySam WaterstonKathy Bates
Robert CortJonathan King
Focus Features
PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned)
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Smokingalcohol usefoul languagesexual contentviolence
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4.8 out of 5 stars

7791 global ratings

  1. 88% of reviews have 5 stars
  2. 8% of reviews have 4 stars
  3. 3% of reviews have 3 stars
  4. 1% of reviews have 2 stars
  5. 1% of reviews have 1 stars
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Top reviews from the United States

Paul AllaerReviewed in the United States on January 9, 2019
3.0 out of 5 stars
"On the Basis of Sex" vs. "RBG": and the winner is...
"On the Basis of Sex" is a bio-pic about the early years in Ruth Bader Ginsburg's career. As the movie opens, she is a first year student at Harvard Law. When her husband Martin, himself a second year student there, becomes gravely ill, she attends both her own and Martin's classes, and of course also cares for him. A couple of years later, Martin is hired by a prominent New York law firm, and Ruth transfers to Columbia Law to finish her law degree. She graduates top of the class, yet not a single law firm in New York offers her a job... At this point we are less than 15 min. into the movie but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.

Couple of comments: this is the latest movie from director Mimi Leder, best known for 2000's "Pay It Forward". Here she brings to the big screen the early years in Ruth Bader Ginsburg's career. Let me be very clear: Ruth Bader Ginsburg is an amazingly sharp lawyer who endured sex discrimination at every corner, to the point that she decided to do something about. AND THEN DID IT. Flash forward: 2018 marked the 25th anniversary of her stint on the US Supreme Court. In other words, this is such a remarkable woman (regardless whether you agree or disagree with some of her positions). Sadly, "On the Basis of Sex" doesn't do justice to this outstanding woman and lawyer. In fact, "On the Basis of Sex' is done strictly by-the-numbers, without any dramatic tension and with an utter predictability that makes this almost into a snooze fest. (Some reviewers here apparently do not/cannot differentiate between this remarkable woman and what a good movie actually is or should be...) As it happens, in 2018 a documentary about Ruth Bader Ginsburg called "RBG" was released. "RBG" puts "On the Basis of Sex" to shame, frankly, and I am 99% certain that "RBG" will pick up an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary in the near future (I am equally certain that "On the Basis of Sex" will not get any Oscar nominations). Playing the role of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Felicity Jones, bless her heart, tries the best she can with the material that she is given, but in the end she cannot overcome the movie's fatal flaw, namely a weak script. To be clear: Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a shining light and role model for so many, and very deservedly so. But that doesn't make "On the Basis of Sex" a good movie... Bottom line: if you haven't seen either of "RBG" and "On the Basis of Sex", by all means chose "RBG". If you've seen "RBG" already, don't bother with "On the Basis of Sex".

"On the Basis of Sex" has seen a limited release so far and will expand nationally this coming weekend. It currently has been playing in one single theater here in Cincinnati. The Tuesday evening screening where I saw this at was attended okay but not great (about 10-12 people). I had good hopes for this movie, but when I compare this to "RBG", there is no doubt which one is (by far) the better movie. Of course I encourage you to check out "On the Basis of Sex", be it in the theater, on Amazon Instant Video, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion. And don't forget about "RBG"!

*UPDATE* 1/22/19 As I predicted, "RBG" picked up an Oscar nomination (for Best Documentary). "On the Basis of Sex" did not get any Oscar nominations. (I think "RBG" is a strong contender to win, although ultimately I see the Best Documentary Oscar going to "Free Solo".)
156 people found this helpful
April B.Reviewed in the United States on April 2, 2019
5.0 out of 5 stars
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Loved this movie!!!!
17 people found this helpful
010Reviewed in the United States on January 21, 2020
1.0 out of 5 stars
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Imagine this era was fascinating, unfortunately this watched more like an afternoon school special. It's striking anymore just how simplistic fits have become. Like fast food, you begin to wonder about the content. I would love to be surprised again while watching a film. Find a few out of S. Korea that have surprised me lately, but Hollywood...they are phoning it in these last years. You don't even really have stars anymore and certainly haven't celebrated any directors lately. T.V. dinner film, just churn them out depending on what agenda or whim strikes you.
9 people found this helpful
WitchyWomynReviewed in the United States on April 24, 2019
4.0 out of 5 stars
Excellent movie
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Excellent movie and compelling story about RBG’s fight for gender equality. As a woman who came of age in the same time frame, it made me mad all over again that women were treated the way we were. Ginsberg is a brilliant woman and true champion for women’s rights. While I enjoyed learning more about Ginsberg, I was disappointed with the actress chosen to portray her. It was almost painful to watch and listen to her speak. Her overbite is severe and too distracting from the amazing story.
8 people found this helpful
Amazon CustomerReviewed in the United States on April 7, 2019
5.0 out of 5 stars
Great movie for the whole family
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Wonderful movie..A great family movie.
12 people found this helpful
Claude LambertReviewed in the United States on September 26, 2020
5.0 out of 5 stars
A beautiful story about Ruth Bader Ginsburg
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This is how Ruth Bader Ginsburg changed the way women were treated in the US by law. The story starts when the courts still based their decisions on tradition: traditionally, the woman stays home and takes care of the kids, the man has a job. You may consider that there is nothing wrong with that, except that after 1945, more and more women got a job and the "tradition" did not give them the same rights as their male counterparts. The American society, like it or not, evolved.
The genius of Ruth Bader was that she defended the right of a man (not a woman) who had made a non-traditional choice by taking care of his elderly mother. The movie is remarkably good. The actors are perfect. The film needs a high school lever education to be fully appreciated, because it is all about legislation.
One person found this helpful
Carl SchultzReviewed in the United States on January 21, 2019
4.0 out of 5 stars
Genuinely Compelling, And Vastly Entertaining
“On the Basis of Sex”   Distributed by Focus Features, 120 Minutes, Rated PG-13, Released December 25, 2018:

Part of the enjoyment of the new movie “On the Basis of Sex” comes from seeing otherwise intelligent and respectable people interacting during a fairly recent past with social customs unthinkable during modern times--casually and seemingly naturally mouthing sexist platitudes and practicing gender discrimination which would render them pariahs in the PC-correct, post-#MeToo New Millennium.

Bringing these laughably antiquated and inappropriate customs into sharper focus are the interactions of the Ginsburg family.  Shown at home practicing such contemporary courtesies as openness, sharing, and mutual support and encouragement as early as 1958, when the story begins, makes the Ginsburgs seem markedly out of place during the Eisenhower era, as conspicuously futuristic as the cartoon Jetsons.  

Knowing the Ginsburgs are going to be instrumental in changing America’s tradition of gender inequality brings a smile of anticipation to the expressions of audiences.  Indeed, when we see the young Ruth Bader Ginsburg patiently enduring the slights and insults of the good ol’ boys network which formulated laws and balanced society during that era, viewers very much experience a sense of, “Hey, try that in twenty-five years, buddy.”

In that way, “On the Basis of Sex” sometimes becomes something like an intellectual “Rocky,” a movie in which the heroes throw words instead of punches, compete in ideas instead of rounds, and work out with books instead of barbells.  In its overall feel-good ambiance, it seems no accident that the unmistakable fingerprints of the legendary populist filmmaker Steven Spielberg appear discreetly among the picture’s closing credits.

Written by Bader Ginsburg’s nephew Daniel Stiepleman and directed by Mimi Leder, “On the Basis of Sex” details the Harvard Law School education and early legal career of current Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  The picture examines specifically the young jurist’s involvement with the Moritz v. Commissioner lawsuit.  Moritz v. Commissioner was a landmark 1972 case which challenged a decision of the US Tax Court that a Denver man, Charles Moritz, was ineligible for tax deductions for the expenses he accumulated in the care of his invalid mother, essentially because he was not a woman.

Although the case involved tax law and Bader Ginsburg’s specialty was gender discrimination,  the young lawyer accepted the challenge at the urging of her husband because she believed an appellate court composed entirely of male judges would be more sympathetic to a gender discrimination case in which the victim was a man.  The case successfully proved “invidious discrimination” against Moritz, and marked the beginning of Bader Ginsburg’s mission to challenge every law that demonstrated inequality on the basis of gender.

“On the Basis of Sex” is anchored by a carefully-shaded characterization by actress Felicity Jones as Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  Born in England, educated at Oxford, and probably best known to date for her performance as Jane Hawking, the wife of physicist Stephen Hawking, in 2014’s Academy Award-nominated biographical film “The Theory of Everything,” Jones also performed the leading role of Jyn Erso in the 2016 “Star Wars Anthology” picture “Rogue One.”

The actress’s superb and spot-on inhabitation of the current Supreme Court Justice as a young woman balancing her responsibilities as a wife and mother with a tireless devotion to law and equality is inspiring, but also helps to humanize and demystify the legendary jurist.  In a way, Jones’ emphatic but warm-hearted performance makes the viewer able to better appreciate just how affectionate are comic Kate McKinnon’s occasional parodies of Bader Ginsburg on television’s “Saturday Night Live.”

Actor Armie Hammer has managed to rebound from not one but two roles in expensive, high-profile megabombs which for a lesser talent might well have been career-ending fiascoes:  Disney’s “The Lone Ranger” in 2013, a $250 million disappointment which was effectively DOA at the box office, and 2015’s “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” a reboot of the beloved 1960s television classic which teamed Hammer as Soviet sidekick Illya Kuryakin with Henry Cavill’s wooden superspy Napoleon Solo, and managed to sabotage little more than the picture’s $100.8 million budget.

Hammer resuscitated his career mostly by seeking supporting roles in small-budget, edgy, low-key independent films such as Nate Parker’s “The Birth of a Nation” in 2016,  Luca Guadagnino’s “Call Me by Your Name” in 2017, and Boots Riley’s frenetic and controversial “Sorry to Bother You” from 2018.

In “On the Basis of Sex,” Hammer might actually have the showier of the picture’s two main roles. With his gently bemused countenance as tax law expert Martin Ginsburg, Hammer’s handed a “Camille”-like near-death scene during the movie’s first half in the late 1950s, but survives in time to become an equal partner in his wife’s crusade for equality in the 1960s...and also to remind their rebellious teenage daughter during the turbulent 1970s that when your mom is Ruth Bader Ginsburg, even Gloria Steinem takes a back seat.

In fact, the only false note in this genuinely compelling film is during the very end, when RBG herself makes a brief cameo appearance, presumably to deliver an implicit stamp of approval on the picture and in the meantime give the audience an opportunity to gawk at the remarkable resemblance achieved by Jones and the cosmetics department.  The appearance of the associate Supreme Court Justice herself is clearly meant to be an inspiring moment, a casual stroll into celluloid immortality. But even by Hollywood Ending standards, the moment is more than a little...well, cheesy.

Written and directed with obvious affection by both Stiepleman and Leder, “On the Basis of Sex” isn’t as stylish as the similarly-themed “Marshall” from 2017, which effectively turned the young Thurgood Marshall into a smooth and smokin’ young Civil Rights lawyer played by “Black Panther” superstar Chadwick Boseman.  But the two pictures are decidedly in the same ballpark. Biographical pictures as entertaining as these make history fun.

Also featuring performances by an effective Justin Theroux as a sympathetic ACLU attorney and former classmate of Bader Ginsburg, Cailee Spaeny as the Ginsburgs’ strong-minded teenage daughter, and Kathy Bates in a small, showcase role as civil liberties pioneer Dorothy Kenyon, “On the Basis of Sex” is performing fairly well with both the nation’s critics and moviegoing audiences:

Rotten Tomatoes reports an approval rating of 71% for “On the Basis of Sex,” against an average score of 60% from Metacritic.  Exit audiences polled by CinemaScore awarded the picture a grade of A. The picture opened on Christmas Day in a limited release to only 33 theaters nationwide, but expanded its release into 1957 theaters on January 11, earning $6.2 million during that weekend and finishing sixth in Box Office Mojo’s Top Ten.

“On the Basis of Sex” is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language concerns, and some suggestive content.  Check it out if you get a chance.
44 people found this helpful
SusanReviewed in the United States on September 27, 2020
5.0 out of 5 stars
Beautiful movie about a remarkable woman.
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As we mourn the passing of this remarkable woman, I wanted to learn more about her early beginnings in the legal profession. I knew the general outline of Justice Ginsburg's amazing life, but I did not know the details. This movie was excellent in detailing her early years - in college and the first major case that she won in court.... fighting for the end of gender discrimination. This case alone changed the course of history. Remarkable. I loved this movie !!!
2 people found this helpful
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