Director: Betsy West, Julie Cohen
Starring: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Jane Ginsburg, James Steven Ginsburg, Nina Totenberg, Clara Spera, Gloria Steinem
Runtime: 97 Minutes
RBG is a pretty unique examination of a historical (and yet still alive and well) figure, whose larger than life actions and professional attributes and achievements have made her an incredibly popular figure amongst younger generations. Ruther Bader Ginsburg is an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States and only the second female justice (after Sandra Day O'Connor) of four to be confirmed to the court (along with Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, who are still serving.
But her remarkable career and span is here made to cater not just to the already converted to her liberal-leaning mindset, but toward a millennial gaze that have taken her ubiquity as ‘the great dissenter’ and seen her reborn as an icon and feminine strength and perseverance in the face of an ever-darkening world of closing borders and unrelenting stupidity on the part of short minded and isolationist politicians.
The film covers her life and career for the uninitiated and spans several decades watching her develop a legal legacy while supporting her loving husband of nearly 50 years (until his death in 2010) Martin Ginsburg, and her children. We see her excel in her studies and professional strategies of remaining composed and calm at all times, and interviews from individuals such as Gloria Steinem and Bill Clinton to add to the roster of acclaim.
It sees the transition from Civil Rights battle that predominantly dominated the 1960s into the feminist movements of the next decade, as she takes on a number of sex discrimination cases to show the omnipresent inequalities for women in the United States specifically. At one point with the Moritz v. Commissioner case cleverly positioning the law to be changed because of discrimination against a man, proving that these laws do nothing but end up hurting everyone.
It does feel like a film that has been carved by directors Betsy West and Julie Cohen to elicit shocked reactions from younger audiences as the list of outlandish laws discriminating against sex that were still in action in the 1970s is rattled off and carries with it a marginally self-congratulatory tone to support contemporary societies progress made during the decades in which she was most active.
But it works at its best when we are just allowed to see Ginsburg in her element, being shipped between talks and events wherein hundreds of young people will come just to see her and listen to her speak. Covering her work ethic and bizarre ongoing friendship with arch-conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, to her more outspoken later years and the strange celebratory context of her recent revival as an icon of popular culture in the ‘Notorious RBG’ despite her age and demeanour being not at all the aggressive powerhouse that might be envisioned from that.
But fun is made at that expense too as even as an incredibly humble elderly woman she still seen in the prime of her life. In one sequence seen with her personal trainer lifting weights wearing a brightly coloured jumper reading ‘super diva’. It’s an incredibly sculpted image, but one that she is clearly in on the joke about and fun to watch none-the-less.
RBG might do very little for the unconverted, opening on a wave of vocal dissent from powerful men and women only to laugh in the face of them, but it does come back to the fact that the fight for ongoing injustices and inequality goes on and that she’s certainly not done fighting yet. It’s a very fun and enjoyably put together documentary, and if not all that challenging it does the great woman justice on screen.