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As weird as it may seem, Ruth Bader Ginsberg had a big year on the silver screen in 2018. The Supreme Court justice was the center of two notable titles, albeit in two different mediums: the documentary RBG, and the biopic feature On The Basis Of Sex. It was funny to see them come out one after the other, but it begs the question: how should the two movies be watched together? Well, On The Basis Of Sex stars Felicity Jones and Armie Hammer, and writer Daniel Stiepleman have thoughts on that very subject, and recently shared them with me:
A few weeks ago, prior to the movie's limited release, I had the chance to participate in the Los Angeles press day for Mimi Leder's On The Basis Of Sex, and during my interviews with the actors and writer I asked them all the same question about RGB. They all had different responses, but the theme that was shared was that documentary is basically a sister-film.
For her part, Felicity Jones -- who stars in On The Basis Of Sex as Ruth Bader Ginsberg -- noted that the two features each have different goals simply because of their basic individual storytelling intentions. At the same time, though, they actually shared common ground in their research, as she explained:
They're very much partners to each other. I mean obviously a film and a documentary have a very different aim in many ways. But even when we were making the film I was constantly looking at footage that the documentary makers we're looking at. So they definitely come as a pair.
When posed with the same question, Armie Hammer noted that while both On The Basis Of Sex and RGB explore the life of the same subject, they go about it in very different ways. Specifically, the latter is much bigger in its "coverage," telling the story of Bader Ginsberg's entire career to date. Meanwhile, not only does the former focus more specifically on a single important case, it also allows audiences so see more of her in her personal and intimate life -- particularly with his character, Marty Ginsberg. Said the actor,
They're complimentary. They both cover the same woman, but in different aspects. The documentary, while it does deal with her personal life, also deals largely with her accomplishments in the Supreme Court, and also as lawyer. This is the story of the woman behind all that. So it fleshes out what you see in the documentary.
The fact that the two movies have this difference in scope was actually something that Daniel Stiepleman appreciated -- even more so because it prevented any redundancies in the storytelling. The On The Basis Of Sex screenwriter pointed out that the court case that's central to the narrative of the film - Moritz v. Commissioner Of Internal Revenue -- isn't actually featured in RBG, and it allows it to act as a more in-depth "origin story" for the legendary lawyer/judge. In his own words,
It's just a coincidence that they came out in such close tandem. But I think it worked out beautifully because our field was kind of a prequel to that film. What that film does so well is it tells the breadth of Ruth Bader Ginsburg's career at the ACLU and the cases she argued and how she argued them, and our story is sort of the origin story of how she became the woman who could go on to do all those things. I admit that when I saw the documentary the first time, I was so relieved to see that our case is not in that movie.
So how should RBG and On The Basis Of Sex be watched together? In what order should one do a double feature? Daniel Stiepleman feels that it might be best to watch Mimi Leder's film first, but added a caveat for anyone who has already seen the documentary:
I think because ours sort of chronologically comes first, I think it could actually could be more rewarding to see our movie first, but given that a lot of people probably already seen the documentary, I don't think you're going to lose out in any way.
Also starring Justin Theroux, Sam Waterston, and Kathy Bates, On The Basis Of Sex has been out in limited release for the last few weeks - but will very likely be heading to a theater near you this weekend as it expands into wide release. So find a copy of RBG, and get properly prepared for a perfect Ruth Bader Ginsberg movie marathon.