Director: Julie Cohen, Betsy West
Cast: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Bill Clinton, Sharron Frontiero
Watch RBG online in the UK: Curzon Home Cinema / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court. Octogenarian. Total bad-ass. That’s the subject of this winning documentary, which shines a spotlight on a woman who has spent the best part of her life standing up to wrongs in society, even when the right side is losing.
The outspoken, unstoppable feminist was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1993, making her one of four female justices in the US Supreme Court. It was an appointment that took Ginsburg’s already notable work to another level, as she stepped up her battle for women’s rights, particularly in the workplace. The result is a legacy and reputation that has earned her the nickname the Notorious RBG – in reference, of course, to the Notorious BIG.
“We have a lot in common. We were both born and bred in Brooklyn, New York,” she quips, during one interview, and that sense of humour is just part of the reason why she’s been so influential. Her wit is matched only by her perseverance – she also takes on male discrimination cases, as well as fighting to maintain the rules of the Voting Right Act that prevent racial persecution. She loves the law, and upholding it above all else, yet still found the time to look after her husband, who was diagnosed with cancer and passed away in 2010.
Directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West pick apart all of these things and more, piecing together a portrait of a remarkable woman, who is as admired and loved by her enemies just as much as the public – not only do legal figures on the other side of the political fence line up to pay tribute to her, but also comedians on SNL, where Ginsburg is featured in several sketches.
RBG is content to use traditional talking heads and archive footage to explore the measure of that respect. If it’s disappointing to see Ginsburg given such conventional treatment, then, it’s only more so not to hear from her on the shifting landscape of American law, from #MeToo to Trump – presumably an indication of when the film was made, if not Ginsburg’s unfailingly professionalism. Nonetheless, like its subject, this well-paced documentary has charm in abundance; opening with a shot of her in the gym that sets the tone to playful but adoring, it’s at its compelling best when just giving us a chance to see Ginsburg in action. Accessible enough to inform an audience who will likely not know of her work, it finds hope and reassurance in the fact that even at the age of 85, RBG refuses to stop making a difference for as long as she’s able to do so. It’s an example to inspire all of us.