Film Review: RBG (USA 2018) ***1/2

A look at the life and work of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.


Julie CohenBetsy West

Often the first 10 minutes of tim sets the tone and mood for the rest of the movie.  As far as this doc called RBG (standing for Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but using the initials of the famous rapper) goes, it is the most spirited first 10 minutes of introduction to any film beginning with the uplifting music I have witnessed in a film this year.  What an into and what anticipation the directors have created for their audience who are then introduced to this ‘witch’, ‘American’ ‘shit-disturber’ who have changed countless lives.  In her very won words: “Everyone wants to take a picture with this 80-year old lady.”

The film delivers a message in the form of Ruth’s mother’s advice to Ruth: “Be a Lady.  Be independent!”  Ruth or RBG explains that being a lady means controlling girly emotions like anger.  The way to win an argument is not to yell.  Being independent means being able to take care of oneself.”  These simple words also apply to males as well with “Be a Gentleman.”

You could do something to make the world better!  Ruth decided to become a lawyer.  If not her husband can support her, Ruth’s parents muse. 

The film benefits from the availability of archive footage.  There are marvellous grainy black and white footage with voiceover provided by Ruth.

The most amazing thing about Ruth, as the movie emphasizes to great effect, is that she did not get life handed to her on a silver platter.  She burnt the candle at both ends by looking after her daughter and ill husband (with cancer) while she was third year at Law School.  The hard work work paid off for Ruth.  Her children also speak to the camera, praising their mother.

The most important issue tackled by the doc is however, the injustices against women.  Law firms did not hire women – it was just the way it was.  Ruth fought for women’s rights.  Ruth Ginsburg used her legal education to make the difference, dealing with sex discrimination cases thus making a difference in the women’s rights movement.  She would take cases that made good law.  The film gets more personal with a specific case –  Frontiero vs. Richardson.  The film is fortunate to have the real Sharron Frontiero interview and speak her case.  She was denied a housing allowance in the Air Force.  “You are lucky to be in the Air Force at all, she was told.   Sharron filed a lawsuit, under taken by RGB.

RBG is an inspiring doc that would make even men cheer that women have attained their deserved rights through the notorious Ruth Bader Ginsburg,

The film also shows her personal side.  They are shots of Ruth attending her favourite pastime – opera  She appreciates the sound of the human voice (she likens it to an electric current), the drama and the music.  Justice and mercy are all in the opera,

Ruth knew exactly what needs to be said and it was a very shrewd strategy.  Ruth wins many cases carefully outlining the words to emphasize the cause.

RBG premiered in Toronto at the Jewish Film Festival a few weeks back.  But he doc and its content has universal appeal.  The directors have created as inspirit a doc as its subject – the Notorious RBG.