• Matt Miller

Movies you might have missed


Title: RBG (2018)

Directed: Julie Cohen & Betsy West

Genre: Documentary

Available on Hoopla, Crave

Scores: 71% Metacritic, 7.6 IMDb


Somehow, simply saying that we lost an icon last week is an understatement. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 2nd female Supreme Court Justice in American history, had died at the age of 87. The unfortunate timing of her passing (which is the closest to an election that a court vacancy has opened in history) has muffled the deserved plaudits and eulogies she had more than earned. For a proper in memoriam it is only fitting to return to the recent 2018 documentary, simply titled RBG.

The documentary itself is nothing ground-breaking. It follows the basic format in which the subject’s life is retold, accompanied by photos, talking heads and news clips to cobble the story together. These works often act more as educational than they do entertainment. But for what RBG lacks in flair, it more than makes up for in its fascinating focus subject – something that jives entirely with Ginsburg’s character. A quiet, soft-spoken lawyer, Ginsburg doesn’t fit the flashy mold that we may expect from such a consequential legal figure. Many courtroom dramas are filled with grandstanding speeches and rhetoric, with impassioned pleas that would bring the coldest of heart to tears. That, of course, is Hollywood sensationalism. When the inevitable biopic of Ginsburg comes out, it will hopefully eschew these clichés, as the real-life figure was much more interesting. Her steadfast dedication to hard work, over-preparedness and civility defines her legacy, and the diligence in which she pursued those goals are her superpower.

The documentary touches on many aspects of her life, including her struggles with sexism in university (in which she was often the only woman in her class), her rise to prominence as a professor (in which she was paid less than her male colleagues) and her initial foray in fighting gender-based discrimination in front of the Supreme Court. Her personal life is explored as well, which fills in the blanks of her enigmatic personality. While not distant per se, Ginsburg had obviously steeled herself against any outward displays of emotion - certainly a by-product of her having to appease the male-dominated world she inhabited. Her family often says the same thing about her: incredibly hard-working, at the office constantly, structured and (gently) demanding. It is not until her interactions with her husband of 50 years are shown that we really see her let her guard down. Their undeniable chemistry is the most heartfelt part of the film, but also begs a sad question. Had her husband not been incredibly supportive of her work, would Ginsburg have accomplished half of what she did? Would she have finished law school at all? How many women were as able as Ginsburg, but didn’t have that support and were forced to choose between family and career?

Ginsburg’s eventual nomination to the court was a surprise in 1993, as she was not one of the front runners. Back when presidents used to interview candidates for the court before appointing them (crazy, right?) President Bill Clinton admits he was floored by her demeanor, passion and drive, hiring her on the spot. It is easy to see why. However, her first years on the bench were not as ‘left leaning’ as many people would think. Her entire legal strategy for years was ‘one step at a time’ progress, chipping away at legal discrimination bit by bit, causing her to fit into the role of moderator. However, as the court began to creep more conservative, her ‘Great Dissenter’ moniker became well earned. We can look back now at some of the major decisions that have tried to, and at times succeeded, in peeling back personal liberties and empowering corporations. Each time, Ginsburg opposed these moves, and each time, her legend grew. In a society that frequently shuns the elderly, it is remarkable to see a seemingly frail, soft-spoken octogenarian be so tireless. Able to do push-ups, perform in stage plays and give speeches to a captivated crowd, she seemed to gain more energy with each passing year. Our stereotypical picture of seniors as being cranky luddites is shot down by Ginsburg many times, but probably best illustrated by her embracing the moniker ‘The Notorious RBG.’ A reference to 90s deceased hip-hop legend Biggie Smalls, we would be forgiven in assuming that an elderly woman would not get it, or possibly even disapprove of the connection. Her response was that she felt the link apt, as they both were from Brooklyn. Her ability to see people as individuals and equals, no matter their surface differences, will be her lasting legacy. R.I.P. RBG, for a person barely five feet tall, the shadow you leave behind will be giant.

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