SHOULD I SEE IT?
RBG is one of the most anticipated documentaries of 2018.
Gives us a chance to get to know the reserved and somewhat reclusive Supreme Court Justice, whose unique celebrity has her amused and befuddled, all at the same time.
A film that may not dig all that deep, but properly puts in prospective the significance and legacy swirling around Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
While the movie does offer a lot of information, we have a hit-or-miss connection to depth, and it is a bit of a disappointment that we don’t have more insight into why she thinks and responds the way she has.
For those who are not fans of Ginsburg, the movie may humanize the reclusive public figure more, but will do next to nothing to move the needle in your line of thinking.
You refuse to fact-check the reckless and false allegations from pundits like Sean Hannity regarding her previous legal decisions and opinions.
Few, if any, Supreme Court Justices have reached the level of “celebrity,” but almost accidentally, Ruth Bader Ginsburg finds herself in rarefied air. Scandal free, outside of a few partisan statements in opposition to then-Presidential candidate Donald Trump during the 2016 election season, and viewed as something of a maverick in her 25 years of service to the highest court in the land, Ginsburg often shies away from the media, only adding to the mystery that surrounds her.
A sprightly 85 years young, and just a hair above 5-feet-tall, Ginsburg is placed front and center in Betsy West and Julie Cohen’s new documentary RBG, an engaging and, at times, fascinating glimpse at a reclusive figure, who has become a liberal icon and an intermittent target of the political right.
West and Cohen have more access to Ginsburg than seemingly anyone in the media ever has before, and we learn so much, without really learning a much at all beneath the surface.
We hear stories from her youth, the circumstances around how she would meet her eventual husband, Marty, and have a handful of family memories shared from her siblings, children, and granddaughter Clara Spera. Ginsburg is affable, congenial, and takes all of the conversations she has with the filmmakers in stride. At times, she seems to enjoy the novelty of someone making a film about her and, in other moments, seems a bit perplexed as to why anyone would care enough to watch a movie about her in the first place.
West and Cohen line up an impressive array of appearances in the film, among them: President Bill Clinton (who put forth her nomination for the Court in 1993), Senator Orrin Hatch, Gloria Steinem, Nina Totenberg, and many. many more. Politically, both sides of the aisle are represented, and what emerges is a genuine respect and admiration for Ginsburg’s tenacious loyalty to fairness and justice.
Whether we see her working with her personal trainer, or laughing uncontrollably at Kate McKinnon’s wild impersonation of her on “Saturday Night Live,” Ginsburg, working out in her “Super Diva!” sweatshirt, is a striking personality.
If anything, RBG could give us a little bit more than it ultimately does.
Whether West and Cohen ran into limitations from their subject, or just opted to deliver a highlight reel of Ginsburg’s life, RBG never quite churns up enough soil to unearth all that many groundbreaking moments.
Even in great individual sequences - we see her enjoying the opera (and even agreeing to be a surprise guest on stage in one performance), being “Bubby” to her family, or learning of the unwavering bond and support she and her husband shared for one another, much of RBG feels a tad bit anecdotal. The transition from personal life experiences to significant rulings from the Supreme Court in her tenure proves a little bit choppy.
A strength comes when the film focuses more on her model of jurisprudence, honing in on two specific cases of gender discrimination. We spend a few minutes analyzing United States v. Virginia, where the VMI (Virginia Military Institute) policy on accepting male-only cadets was found to violate the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.
She famously wrote a blistering dissent in Ledbetter v. Goodyear, where a woman, Lilly Ledbetter, who also appears in the film, sued her employer for equal pay discrimination, only to learn that the statute of limitations had tolled on her claims.
Ultimately, President Barack Obama would sign the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in January 2009, citing Ginsburg’s dissent in the Supreme Court case, as a catalyst for getting the act signed into law.
At an efficient 97 minutes, RBG is an interesting look at a most fascinating public figure. Learning of her being a two-time cancer survivor, coupled with her age, draws to mind her critics and naysayers who have earmarked her as the next Supreme Court Justice to resign, pass away, or otherwise vacate a seat.
Dubbed “The Notorious RBG” (a nickname lifted from late rap star The Notorious B.I.G.) by a legion of young people, Millennials, and others who have made her something of a larger-than-life, pop culture icon, Ginsburg makes it quite clear that she will do her job until she is no longer able to do it the only way she knows how.
She doesn’t plan on going anywhere, anytime soon.
CAST & CREW
Documentary Featuring: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Jane Ginsburg, James Ginsburg, Clara Spera, Gloria Steinem, Bill Clinton, Orrin Hatch, Nina Totenberg, Sharron Frontiero, Lilly Ledbetter.
Director: Betsy West, Julie Cohen
Release Date: May 4, 2018