RBG (2018)


Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Film review from the 2018 Atlanta Film Festival

Ruth Bader Ginsburg has become almost a folk hero to a lot of Americans. It’s not often that the likeness of a Supreme Court Justice is on a T-shirt with the expression ‘Notorious RBG’ over it. She’s on coffee mugs, sweatshirts, hundreds of memes and Kate McKinnon has played her on numerous Saturday Night Live specials. RBG gets beneath the outer layer of her persona, and we get to know the real Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Ginsburg was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York to Russian Jewish immigrants. Her mother, who had a significant influence on her life, died the day before Ginsburg was to graduate high school. She graduated with an undergraduate degree from Cornell, a school that was well known as a school that a young woman could find a husband (the ration of men to women was 5 to 1, so the odds were good). In fact, Cornell worked for Ruth, for there she met and eventually married fellow law student Martin Ginsburg. She had a baby before enrolling into Harvard Law School, who just a few years before had started admitting women. She was one of just eleven women in her freshman class. When Martin (who was a few years older than Ruth) got his law degree and got a job in New York City, Ruth and the baby followed Martin, leaving Harvard behind. Ruth next entered the Columbia University Law School and obtained her law degree. Ruth later started teaching law at Rutgers University, teaching a class on gender equality, one of the first in the country.


Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

While at Rutgers, she began taking cases to the Supreme Court, winning five of the six cases, all were dealing with gender equality and women’s rights. In 1980, his first appointment was selecting Ginsberg to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. In 1993, Bill Clinton appointed her Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, where she remains on the bench to this day.

Directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West bring an insightful, funny and thoroughly engaging look at this national treasure of a woman. We get unprecedented access to Ginsburg, seeing her work late into the night at her desk at home, going to her beloved Opera, touring art museums around the U.S.. We even get a guided tour of her court robes and those famous lace collars that Ruth designed herself because the neckline of the robe was designed to accommodate a man with a shirt and tie.


Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

RBG uses home movies and family photos, along with news stories and interviews that Ruth has done throughout her years on the court. One of the coolest things in the film is with the cases she brought to the Supreme Court, or her giving the dissenting rebuttal while she was on the court, we get to hear her voice at the time presenting the case before the court, which then slowly fades into Ginsberg in present time reading the decision.

Key to her makeup was her longtime marriage to Martin. Martin is described by friends and family interviewed in the film, as the life of the party, always ready to make the shy, reserved Ruth laugh. He was also, at a time the man was considered the head of the household, willing to be in the background, supporting his wife by making sure she came home for dinner. Martin even cooked their meals, which is a good thing because the son and daughter of Ruth laugh on camera if asked if Ruth could cook.

The film looks in-depth at Ginsberg’s work to try to make the laws in the U.S. treat men and women equally. RBG looks at all six cases that Ginsberg took to the Supreme Court, and you come away from that a great many women in this country owe a significant debt of gratitude for the rights that they enjoy today.

There are a few surprises in the film. One is how hard she works out with a trainer. We see her sweating up a storm, sometimes complaining that the exercises are too easy to her trainer. It’s an impressive sight to see this small woman workout with such an intensity. The second surprise is her best friend on the court is ultra-conservative Associate Justice Antonin Scalia. They have bonded over their mutual love of Opera, and Ruth thinks Scalia’s sense of humor is the best of all the justices.

In the screening I saw at the Atlanta Film Festival, just about any time Ginsberg was quoted about equal rights, a great deal of the crowd would clap in appreciation of her words. This is one of the best documentaries of the year, and if you are a fan of Ginsburg, you have to see this film. I have a feeling that after you see RBG, you just might get on the Internet and buy one of those notorious RBG T-shirts or coffee mugs.     My Rating: I Would Pay to See It Again

My movie rating system from Best to Worst:  1). I Would Pay to See it Again  2). Full Price  3). Bargain Matinee  4). Cable  5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again

RBG Website

Atlanta Film Festival Website

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