Thursday, July 12, 2018

RBG (2018)

Rated:  PG

STARS: Ruth Bader Ginsburg
DIRECTOR: Julie Cohen, Betsy West
GENRE: Documentary

She is known as "Notorious RBG," and she's a rock star.  She's also as U.S. Supreme Court justice. Vilified by the right, revered by the left (and respected by a good deal of moderates, I imagine, who tend to have more of an open mind on things), Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been a champion for equal rights and human decency from the beginning.  RBG, the reverential documentary on her life and career, leaves few stones unturned in presenting her story.

The film begins with a montage of right-wing politicians and talk show hosts hurling insults and epithets. It then goes on to show you who she really is. Nice touch, I thought. As documentaries go, RBG is rather austere (could have used a bit more stirring music, I felt), with interviews from the likes of Bill Clinton, Gloria Steinem, NPR contributor Nina Totenberg, and the late conservative justice Antonin Scalia. Of particular interest is Bader's close friendship with Scalia. They had a fondness for each other that transcended political lines. There is a clip showing them riding an elephant together, one of the numerous humorous touches sprinkled throughout the film.

There is even a romantic element, with archival footage and background on her late husband Marty Ginsburg and their times together. And here's the answer to the question that has been in the back of your mind, so admit it. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a strikingly attractive woman in her youth. (So any subsequent biopic that might be made about Ms. Ginsburg, they can go ahead and put Julia Roberts in there to play her.) Now in her mid eighties, Ruth Ginsburg is a warrior. She does a fitness routine that would shame most younger folks.  

Today, with the U. S Supreme Court irretrievably (in our lifetime) skewed to the political right, Ruth Bader Ginsburg will stand, in many cases I suspect, as a lone dissenting opinion--and that is the melancholic  undertone that kept haunting me throughout this film. For I don't see how anyone, regardless of political leanings, could come away from RBG without the impression that there is one word that best describes  Ruth Bader Ginsburg. And that word is integrity. 

Grade:  B +   


I went to this movie thinking I'd be bored witless. But the current film options playing in both southern California and Tucson consist mostly of shoot 'em up crapbusters.  So off I went -- unwillingly-- to learn about this 84-year-old legend. By the end of the film, everybody in the audience was clapping.  Including me.  

I really have to hand it to co-directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West for interspersing Ginsberg's numerous landmark cases (and decisions) in such a unique and mind-grabbing manner.  She didn't just focus on the feminist perspective (although that earned a healthy share of attention).  I particularly liked a case (Weinberger v Wiesenfeld, 1975) where a widower wasn't eligible to collect special benefits while caring for his children.  Bader argued that this gender-based distinction was unconstitutional. (She won.)  

RBG was chock full of cases that changed the course of history. The idea that this tiny wisp of a woman has had such a powerful impact on our nation's legal decisions is particularly appealing to me -- since I'm petite too.  But not nearly as soft-spoken!  

I also had tremendous admiration for her loyal and devoted husband who put his wife's career ahead of his own.  A bold move in those days of Stepford wives. I'm with Tim on this one.  Whether you're a raving Liberal or a staunch Republican, this film transcends politican prejudices.

Grade: B+