“On The Basis Of Sex”

There is so much I love about first time screenwriter Daniel Stiepleman’s ode to his aunt, Ruth Bader Ginsberg that this will be an easy review. “On The Basis Of Sex” has a great title, the tempo of Sylvester Stallone’s “Rocky”, beautiful metaphors sustained, and snippets of male chauvinism that are documented both humorously and rationally.

In his bio-pic, Stiepleman centers on the middle period of the Supreme Court Justice’s life. Ruth’s husband Marty (Armie Hammer) has been diagnosed with testicular cancer; they have a toddler;and Ruth ( Felicity Jones) is attending her own classes and Marty’s while he recoups his strength. Professor Freund’s, (Martin’s Harvard Contract Law professor) dictum that “ a court ought not to be affected by the weather of the day, but by the climate of the era” becomes the overarching theme.

The beginning of the film brilliantly puts the viewers in the era, 1956. Sam Waterston is giving a welcoming speech to 500 Harvard Law initiates. Only nine are women. Waterston, playing the dean of Harvard Law School at the time, Erwin Griswold, begins with “ Esteemed colleagues and ladies”. It rankles. Griswold then asks each of the nine why they are occupying a place at Harvard that could have been given to a man. He accepts a young woman’s reasoning that she wishes to share her father’s law firm’s nameplate while he cuts other responses off. Ruth understanding his prejudices coyly responses that by attending law school with her husband, she can be a more patient and understanding wife. The women suppress their laughter. It is a great scene, and there are many more.

The documentary “RBG”, reviewed here, May 31, 2018,
made much of the supportive role Ruth’s husband played in her career. This film shows Martin Ginsberg as even more of a factor in her success and in her happiness. I loved the scenes where Hammer cooks “marrying herbal flavors’ and the scene where he cooly talks down his mouthy daughter. Loving and self-deprecating, humorous and emotionally and intellectually brilliant, Martin we come to love , too.

Jane, their daughter is played by Camille Spaeny. Spaeny was the young Lynne Cheney in “Vice”, she is only eleven years younger than Hammer,but her acting nails the thirteen-year-old, push-pull dynamic. The cast is perfection: Kathy Bates as the feminist lawyer Dorothy Kenyon, Justin Theroux as Anerican Civil Liberties attorney Mel Wulf, and Sam Waterston all make their mark.

The French title of this film is “Une Femme d’Exception”, and Director Mimi Leder keeps the focus on the exceptional woman that RBG is. As we see Ginsburg triumph in court, we have tears in our eyes and want to toast her with champagne.

The 178 laws that deferentiate between genders, the right of the country to change, and the triumph of reason being the soul of law exhalts the law profession. Felicity Jones’ march up the Supreme Court steps and her morphing into RBK says it all. Oscar worthy for sure.

Enjoy the script for its liberal truisms like “How a country taxes its people directly deals with its values.” For anyone who wants to change the world, this is your inspirational film of the year.

“The Invisible Woman”

This film directed and acted by Ralph Fiennes is an exquisite period piece that channels Victorian England by dramatizing Charles Dickens as a successful forty-year-old luminary embarking on an affair with an eighteen-year-old, inexperienced girl. The screenplay is based on Claire Tomalin’s 1991 dramatic biography “The Invisible Woman:The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens”.

This film shares the same question one may ask after reading “Fifty Shades of Grey”: Can impressionable young woman be protected from the narcissitic manipulations of high-ranking men? And in the case of Nelly,can a mother contract her daughter out for the promise of economic stability? No matter how archetypal the theme,this arranged mistress storyline smarts;and Dickens’reputation is lowered a notch or two. Those who see this as a true love story may disagree. The film balances both takes,and it is my moralizing that judges Dickens and his ilk harshly. The privileged male syndrome has had its comeuppance, I hope.Preying on those coming of age in order to achieve one’s sexual desires is verboten by most. A romantic muse need not lead to carnal displays . As I reread this,I fear that I am the “Victorian”! Yet,I was very satisfied with the film,even after three weeks of seeing trailers that misled the public.

Attention to detail sets this film apart. A 2014 Oscar win for Costume Design was almost assured with the film’s twelve million dollar budget. One frame is especially stunning. Felicity Jones, as Nelly, is encased in lavender and white gauze against grey and lavender clouds. The ensuing effect takes one’s breathe away. Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone With The Wind” came to mind, as did Lara in “Dr. Zhivago”.

The three female actresses Felicity Jones as Nelly,Kristin Scott Thomas as Nelly’s mother and Joanna Scanlan, as Catherine Dickens, Charles’ wife are a trilogy of talent. With the use of a narrator and flashbacks, the not so secret love affair unfolds. Scanlan drew tears from my eyes as she suffered with her husband’s infidelity and brutal abandonment. She commanded the screen and used silence and a query as no other has. An Oscar loss,she did not deserve.

Fiennes stepped into the part of Dickens when as director he lost his leading man. He played Dickens as vain,love-sotted and scheming. Both tender and cruel. Full of life affirming possibility and vigor. At the time Dickens was writing “Great Expectations” he ironically had a few of his own.

In this film, one noticed the silence in lieu of background music. When the violins did start, it was heart-rending. A “Dr. Zhivago” for the Anglophile ! Did I leave anything out?