RBG is an exceptionally standard biographical documentary. It outlines the career and legacy of United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, from her early days studying law at Harvard and Columbia to her continuing efforts as a feminist symbol and legal influencer cheekily nicknamed the “Notorious RBG.”
The CNN-produced doc makes little effort to hide its partisan bias. The film opens with voiceover snippets from various right-wing news outlets that fiercely criticize Ginsburg. These clips are meant to come off as fanatical and silly. There is only one segment in the film that broaches the possibility of damning the justice, and it is a moment of candor that was uncharacteristic for Ginsburg.
Ultimately, this partisanship is expected, and one cannot criticize a movie merely for its political bent. That said, the brief moment that introduces an aisle-crossing friendship between Ginsburg and fellow judge Antonin Scalia is the most intriguing tidbit of the film.
The film makes comment, through the words of former President Bill Clinton, that America’s current political climate is more polarized than ever. With that in my head, watching the two justices on screen made me rather see a joint biography picture chronicling the lives of both Ginsburg and Scalia, culminating in their eventual friendship.
That said, I am not here to pitch a new movie. I am here to review the one we are given. It is, however, noteworthy to point out the cognitive dissonance in the film’s assertion of a highly polarized political climate and its contribution to that polarization.
Partisan politics aside, the film does a fairly good job of situating the broader implications of Ginsburg’s legacy. The doc takes some time to establish Ginsburg as a human figure, mainly through the depiction of her relationship with her husband, but for the most part she is presented as a symbol of the longstanding battle for equal rights for women.
At its peak, the documentary steps away from its talking head interviews and lets Ginsburg become that symbol in her own words. The screen will become bare, showing only a courtroom, and her words will take over the screen.
This is what makes the midsection of the film, which highlights key cases in her career as a lawyer, the most compelling. Ginsburg’s incisive rhetoric is able to cut through the artifice of the documentary form and really resonate. This is sadly missing from the final segments of the film, which deviate from the narrative of Ginsburg’s career and become more about her legacy in the present day. This comes off as if the film is patting itself on the back for now being part of that same conversation
When all is said and done, you don’t really need a review to tell you whether or not you will like RBG. You know who Ginsburg is. You know if you are a fan. You know where your politics lie. Unless you’re a critic who dislikes partisanship even when it lines up with his political views, you will likely either love it or hate it.
As always, thanks for reading!
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)