“Not long into On the Basis of Sex, future Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (played by Felicity Jones) undresses and falls into bed with her husband, Martin (Armie Hammer). The love scene is brief and tasteful—but it felt much longer Sunday night, watching it in an audience that also held Hillary Clinton, and Gloria Steinem,and Ruth Bader Ginsburg herself. It was like watching a sex scene with your parents, multiplied by a hundred uncomfortable throat clearings.
“Well, my children are in the audience,” Ginsburg said during a panel discussion after the screening at Lincoln Center Sunday night, when asked about her simulated display of affection. “And I think they would probably agree their daddy would have loved it.” Clinton, whose husband appointed Ginsburg to the Supreme Court in 1993 and was given a standing ovation at the outset of the film, was not afforded the chance to comment on what that experience was like for her.
The film follows the Ginsburgs’ supportive partnership in all things, from their shared time at Harvard to the first case they argued in court together, a gender-discrimination dispute brought before the U.S. Court of Appeals in 1971. Director Mimi Leder had the benefit of securing not only Ginsburg’s blessing but also her critical eye: the justice helped to revise the movie’s script, which was written by her nephew, Daniel Stiepleman. She “gave up the job of editor” around the third round, Ginsburg said; her daughter, Jane, took it from there, helping with the next seven or so revisions.
Ultimately, R.B.G. was happy with the result: “This film is part fact, part imaginative. . . . But the imaginative parts fit in with the story so well,” she said Sunday—adding that one such creative flare was the climactic scene in which on-screen Ruth falters at first under the weight of a judge’s questioning. “I didn’t stumble at the outset,” Ginsburg said.”