RBG (film)

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RBG
RBGfilmPoster.jpeg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by
  • Betsy West
  • Julie Cohen
Produced by
  • Betsy West
  • Julie Cohen
Starring
Music byMiriam Cutler
CinematographyClaudia Raschke
Edited byCarla Gutierrez
Production
company
Distributed byMagnolia Pictures
Release date
  • January 21, 2018 (2018-01-21) (Sundance)
  • May 4, 2018 (2018-05-04) (United States)
Running time
97 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Box office$14.3 million[1]

RBG is a 2018 American documentary film directed and produced by Betsy West and Julie Cohen, focusing on the life and career of Supreme Court of the United States Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. After premiering at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, the film was released in the United States on May 4, 2018. It received positive reviews and grossed $14 million worldwide. It was chosen by the National Board of Review as the Best Documentary Film of 2018.

Synopsis[edit]

RBG chronicles the career of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which spans several decades, and how she developed a legal legacy while becoming a pop culture icon. The film is a biographical depiction of Ginsburg from her birth in Brooklyn, New York, her college education and subsequent career as a law professor, her appointment to the federal judiciary by President Jimmy Carter, and eventual appointment to the Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton.

Ruth Bader was born in Brooklyn into a first-generation American Jewish family. She earned a bachelor's degree at Cornell University, where she met her husband, Martin Ginsburg. (They remained married until his death in 2010). Ruth enrolled in Harvard Law School before transferring to Columbia University while Martin started a successful career as a New York City tax attorney. After graduating Columbia, Ruth became a law professor at Rutgers Law School and Columbia Law School.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg successfully argued five of six cases regarding gender discrimination before the U.S. Supreme Court. She advocated for both men and women facing sex-based bias: among the plaintiffs she represented was a woman facing housing discrimination in the U.S. Air Force and a male single parent denied Social Security benefits normally paid only to single mothers. Ginsburg argued these cases in the 1960s and '70s, when gender discrimination was rampant in U.S. society and an all-male Supreme Court was generally skeptical of claims of bias against women.

After being nominated by President Jimmy Carter, Ginsburg was confirmed to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on June 18, 1980. Her service on the appellate court ended August 9, 1993, and she was sworn in as a U.S. Supreme Court Justice on August 10, 1993, becoming the second female justice ever appointed at that time. After frankly answering questions about abortion and discrimination at her Senate confirmation hearings, Ginsburg was confirmed by a vote of 96 to 3, which President Clinton notes was astounding given the partisan political environment of the 1980s, let alone now.

The film includes interviews with feminist icon Gloria Steinem and NPR's Nina Totenberg on Ginsburg's trailblazing career focused on women's rights. Among the landmark cases brought before the Supreme Court, the 1996 decision that allowed female cadets to enroll at the previously all-male Virginia Military Institute (VMI) is discussed at length. Several female VMI graduates explain why the decision was important — for them personally, and in the larger struggle for women's rights.

The film also chronicles Ginsburg's status as a pop culture icon, starting with the publication of Notorious R.B.G.: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, written by Shana Knizhnik and Irin Carmon. Knizhnik and Carmon also started a Notorious R.B.G. Tumblr which gained a huge following and spawned merchandise such as T-shirts and coffee mugs. The nickname is inspired by the "Notorious" honorific from the name of rap artist Notorious B.I.G. Ginsburg shows a good-natured embrace of her nickname, noting that she and the rapper have much in common: they were both born in Brooklyn.

Ginsburg's granddaughter, who appears in the film, is a graduate of Harvard Law School. She notes her graduating class was 50/50 male/female; when Ruth attended Harvard Law School, she was one of only nine female students in a class of approximately 560 total.

The film contrasts Martin Ginsburg's gregarious personality with Ruth's more stoic nature. Ruth's children note that although their mother is a brilliant lawyer, she is an awful cook. Martin says that he refrained from offering his opinions on legal matters to his wife, and she refrained from cooking after their children complained about her lack of culinary skill.

The film shows a playful side of the normally reserved Ginsburg. She engages in jovial banter with arch-conservative Justice Antonin Scalia while acknowledging their love of opera was one of the few things they shared in common. She also has a cameo role in an opera shortly after Donald Trump becomes President.

Several commentators criticize disparaging remarks Ginsburg made about Trump during his campaign, noting that her comments made her vulnerable to claims of judicial bias in Supreme Court cases involving the Trump administration. (Ginsburg apologized for her remarks and Senator Orrin Hatch opines that the formidable legal scholar is allowed to make occasional mistakes.) The film notes the left- and rightward swings of the Supreme Court during Ginsburg's tenure. As the court has tilted in a conservative direction, Ginsburg's dissents from majority opinions have become more frequent and forceful.

Despite being in her eighties and having survived colon and pancreatic cancer, Ginsburg works relentlessly late nights and often gets only a few hours of sleep. She also is shown exercising at a gym with a personal trainer. When asked how long she plans to remain on the Supreme Court, Ginsburg responds that she will stay only as long as she is able to address the cases placed before her with the full ability and integrity of her lifetime of experience in practicing law.

Production[edit]

Directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West had both previously worked on projects involving Ginsburg, and in 2015 decided to make a documentary focusing solely on her. In 2016, the duo followed Ginsburg around to various meetings and speeches, including in Chicago and Washington, D.C., for a total of 20 hours, and conducted the face-to-face interview in 2017.[2]

Reception[edit]

Box office[edit]

RBG began its limited release on May 4, 2018, and grossed $577,153 from 34 theaters over its opening weekend, an average of $16,975 per venue.[3] The film expanded to 179 theaters in its second week, making $1.2 million for the weekend and finishing 10th at the box office.[4] Playing in 375 theaters in its third week, the film made $1.3 million on the weekend, finishing in 12th,[5] and made $1.1 million in its fourth weekend, returning to 10th.[6] It is one of the highest-grossing independent films of 2018.[7]

Critical response[edit]

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 94% based on 136 reviews, and an average rating of 7.4/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "RBG might be preaching to the choir of viewers who admire Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but it does effectively so."[8] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 72 out of 100, based on 29 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[9]

A. O. Scott of The New York Times wrote, "The movie's touch is light and its spirit buoyant, but there is no mistaking its seriousness or its passion. Those qualities resonate powerfully in the dissents that may prove to be Justice Ginsburg's most enduring legacy, and RBG is, above all, a tribute to her voice."[10] In her review for The Hollywood Reporter, Leslie Felperin wrote, "..there is something deeply soothing about RBG, a documentary that, like its subject, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, is eminently sober, well-mannered, highly intelligent, scrupulous and just a teeny-weeny bit reassuringly dull."[11]

Accolades[edit]

Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) and nominee(s) Result Ref(s)
Critics' Choice Documentary Awards November 10, 2018 Best Documentary RBG Nominated [12]
Best Political Documentary Won
Most Compelling Living Subject of a Documentary Ruth Bader Ginsburg Won
Hollywood Music in Media Awards November 14, 2018 Original Score – Documentary Miriam Cutler Nominated [13]
Original Song – Documentary Diane Warren Won
National Board of Review January 8, 2019 Best Documentary Film RBG Won [14]
Cinema Eye Honors January 10, 2019 Audience Choice Prize RBG Pending [15]
Producers Guild of America Awards January 19, 2019 Outstanding Producer of Documentary Theatrical Motion Pictures RBG Pending [16]
Satellite Awards February 17, 2019 Best Documentary Film RBG Pending [17]

See also[edit]

  • On the Basis of Sex, a biographical drama film focusing on Ginsburg's work to end gender discrimination, set for release in 2018.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "RBG (2018)". The Numbers. Retrieved October 13, 2018.
  2. ^ Harloe, Kate (May 4, 2018). "How Two Filmmakers Convinced RBG to Let Them Film Her Workout". Mother Jones. Retrieved May 17, 2018.
  3. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (May 6, 2018). "'Avengers: Infinity War' Is Second-Fastest Pic To $400M With Second-Best 2nd Weekend Ever At $112M+ – Sunday". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved May 17, 2018.
  4. ^ Brooks, Brian (May 13, 2018). "'The Seagull' & 'Beast' Top Crowded Market: 'RBG' Crosses $2M – Specialty Box Office". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved May 17, 2018.
  5. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (May 20, 2018). "'Deadpool 2' Swinging In As Second-Best Opening For R-Rated Pic With $125M". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved May 20, 2018.
  6. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (May 27, 2018). "Why Is 'Solo' Flying So Low At The B.O.? Memorial Day Opening Now At $101M+ – Early Sunday Update". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved May 27, 2018.
  7. ^ Erbland, Kate (January 9, 2018). "The 20 Highest Grossing Indies of 2018 (A Running List)". IndieWire. Retrieved June 24, 2018.
  8. ^ "RBG (2018)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved October 13, 2018.
  9. ^ "RBG Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved May 17, 2018.
  10. ^ Scott, A. O. (May 3, 2018). "Review: In 'RBG,' the Life and Times of a Beloved and Controversial Supreme Court Justice". The New York Times. Retrieved May 17, 2018.
  11. ^ Felperin, Leslie (January 21, 2018). "'RBG': Film Review | Sundance 2018". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved May 16, 2018.
  12. ^ Lewis, Hilary (November 10, 2018). "Mr. Rogers Film 'Won't You Be My Neighbor?' Tops Critics' Choice Documentary Awards". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved November 24, 2018.
  13. ^ Xu, Linda (November 15, 2018). "Hollywood Music in Media Awards: Full List of Winners". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved November 24, 2018.
  14. ^ Lewis, Hilary (November 27, 2018). "'Green Book' Named Best Film by National Board of Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved November 28, 2018.
  15. ^ Tapley, Kristopher (November 8, 2018). "Hulu's 'Minding the Gap' Ties Cinema Eye Honors All-Time Nominations Record". Variety. Retrieved November 24, 2018.
  16. ^ McNary, Dave (November 20, 2018). "'Won't You Be My Neighbor,' 'RBG' Nab Producers Guild Documentary Nominations". Variety. Retrieved November 24, 2018.
  17. ^ "2018 Awards Nominees". International Press Academy. Retrieved December 10, 2018.

External links[edit]