music friday: 50 years ago at Fillmore West
branded to kill (seijun suzuki, 1967)

film fatales #50: rbg (julie cohen and betsy west, 2018)

I laughed often during RBG, which tells you something about how the film is constructed. Cohen and West allow the audience to be charmed by Ginsburg. This is not a warts-and-all production. The filmmakers avoid hagiography, but only barely.

It helps that they have such an interesting subject. Ginsburg's work as a lawyer arguing gender discrimination cases before the Supreme Court are featured (she won five of six), and the time is taken to explain why these were important beyond the immediate moment. We also learn how Ginsburg is not the flaming liberal of her reputation. The film suggests that when she joined the Court, she was ideologically planted in the center. Over time, she has moved left relative to her colleagues, but she herself hasn't changed.

I'm currently reading Rebecca Traister's Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women's Anger, and she argues that powerful women are more appreciated when they are in fact relatively powerless. About Ginsburg, she writes:

Ginsburg, whose fiery dissents have become the stuff of internet legend, and who has become known on the internet as the Notorious RBG, is in the minority of the Supreme Court. The pleasures of celebrating her toughness stem in part from her actual physical stature: she is a short, thin, octogenarian who has twice had cancer; the whole punch line of admiration for her is in part rooted in the improbability of her threat; she's like a little doll of female anger who we can all cheer for, even as she is outvoted again and again and again. It's extremely difficult to imagine the same kind of tattoo-inspiring admiration for her angry opinions if those opinions were actually reshaping the law.

But Ginsburg has said, "Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one's ability to persuade." Persuasion is her speciality ... she has persuaded many people in her career to make the right decision, and did so without anger.

RBG the film, though, could use a little anger. We are shown things that would make us angry, but they are usually presented as obstacles Ginsburg helps us to overcome, so even the anger turns positive in the movie.

There are many highlights. The footage of her as a young woman reminds us that she wasn't always 80+ years old ... it's one thing to read that, to think that, but here a picture does indeed say a thousand words, and Ginsburg is a more real person to us when we see where she has come from. Her lifelong love affair with her husband is a joy. Her friendship with the ultra-conservative justice Antonin Scalia has never made sense, but seeing the two old friends interact here, that friendship makes perfect sense. Watching her workout is inspiring. And it's fun to see her accept her new celebrity. I laughed hardest when Cohen and West sat Ginsburg down in front of a TV and showed her Kate McKinnon's impression of her on SNL. She laughs throughout ... she thinks it's quite funny ... when asked if she thinks McKinnon is like her, though, she laughs again and says no.

I know more about Ginsburg than I did before I watched RBG. It was an enjoyable film. It could have been harder-hitting, but that's not the film Cohen and West wanted to make. As far as I can tell, they have succeeded in what they set out to accomplish. Nominated for two Oscars (one is for a Diane Warren song, so it doesn't count).

(Explanation of the Film Fatales Series.)

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