'RBG' a spirited biography on Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

  • Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the subject of the documentary "RBG."

    Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the subject of the documentary "RBG." Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

 
 
Posted5/4/2018 6:00 AM

"RBG" - ★ ★ ★

How smart can Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg be?

 

A spirited documentary titled "RBG" illustrates how the now-85-year-old judge became a master of long-range planning and intricate, interlocking elements long before Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige designed the all-connected storylines in the 19 movies used to construct the Marvel Comics Universe.

Except Ginsburg employed court cases, not movies, to brilliantly construct a larger legal strategy for the establishment of equal rights for all Americans (but especially women) in regards to pay, work benefits and social security entitlements.

In presenting key cases before the Supreme Court during the 1970s (such as Frontiero v. Richardson and Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld), Ginsburg used her legal victories like chess moves to knock down America's cultural opposition to true equality.

Still active today as a more conservative Supreme Court's in-house dissenter, the shy, soft-spoken woman from Brooklyn has amassed a cult following in recent years.

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"She's a rock star!" one fan burbles.

Bader even has her own street handle, "Notorious RBG," bestowed upon her by internet groupies.

In "RBG," directed with nerve and verve by Betsy West and Julie Cohen, Ginsburg and her personable granddaughter Clara Spera share hearty laughs while watching "Saturday Night Live" star Kate McKinnon's animated, totally un-Badered impersonation of the justice.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the subject of the documentary "RBG."
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the subject of the documentary "RBG." - Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

"RBG" wisely eschews the traditional and usually boring chronological format of documentary profiles. Instead, West, Cohen and editor Carla Gutierrez shrewdly peg their film on Ginsburg's 1993 confirmation hearing before the Senate where senators Joe Biden, Ted Kennedy and even Orrin Hatch grill President Clinton's Supreme Court nominee, and receive a supersized helping of bluntly honest, well-wrought answers.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

In "RBG," everyone loves Ginsburg. Seriously, everyone.

Not just her adoring children Jane and James (who kept a record on the times when Mom actually laughed) and successful attorney husband Marty (who accepted his reversed role as a stay-at-home spouse), but even arch-conservative associate Justice Antonin Scalia, who opposed Ginsburg's policy views, but highly valued their off-court friendship.

To be fair, "RBG" risks boring audiences by appearing to deify its titular subject.

But how do you avoid lionizing a woman when she's a genuine lioness?

• • •

Directed by: Betsy West, Julie Cohen

Other: A Magnolia Pictures release. Opens at the River East and Century Centre in Chicago. Rated PG. 96 minutes

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