The new documentary RBG is a Must See if you believe in The U.S. Constitution, incremental but meaningful forward change that lasts, and the power of focus, love, and laughter. It screened recently as part of The Montclair Film Festival, and the film is wrapping up an active festival circuit before opening to wide release this week.
Even active and avid fans of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg will learn something new about this icon of dissent and warrior for equal rights for women. Audiences get a peek at her closet of collars, hear touching letters from her life partner Marty Ginsberg, and watch as RBG belly-laughs at Kate McKinnon giving a GinsBURN on SNL. RBG is an entertaining, educational, and hopeful journey centered on cases that shaped the Supreme Court Justice’s career and passion for law.
As the Slate RBG review mentions, Ruth Bader Ginsberg was fomenting a revolution of a different kind than was marching on the streets in the 1970’s. Instead of burning her bra, she was taking and arguing cases that achieved benefit equality in the US Air Force and beyond. There are many faces and methods to resistance.
At its core, however, RBG is about two love stories, both enveloped in respect and appreciation. First, the love story between Ruth Bader and Marty Ginsberg infuses every accomplishment and high and low of the film’s narrative. During Bader Ginsberg’s confirmation hearings, we see Marty’s proud and smiling face behind his wife as she acknowledges the support and encouragement he gave her career. We also find out later in the film that it was Marty Ginsberg who lobbied to move his wife to the top of President Clinton’s SCOTUS nominations. The film also touches on health scares overcome and sacrifices each spouse made for the other’s career. And throughout, there is an unrelenting mutual appreciation, a symbiosis born of respect, that allowed each partner to rise and succeed.
The second love story is Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s love of The Law and its ability to make positive, lasting change. From her days at Harvard Law, later at Columbia’s Law School, to scenes showing her with high school students, to her children’s and husband’s anecdotes about having to practically drag her home for dinner and bedtime, Justice Bader Ginsburg’s obsessive love of law is a character unto itself. The film is built around RBG’s landmark cases, both the ones she argued in front of the Supreme Court, and the ones she judged. Her biting dissents are highlighted to great effect.
Through it all, the documentary feels intimate enough to satisfy fans, as well as historical to satisfy those of us hungry for inspiration and hope in what often feels like a time of disdain for the law. The film’s editor, Carla Gutierrez, had a strong hand in the formation of this balance. In a recent Variety article, she explains, “The draw for me while going through the footage was to give the viewers a personal experience.” The film achieves this personal, inspirational goal over and over again.
RBG opens in theaters all over the country on May 4th. Find locations and buy tickets here. CNN will also eventually whittle down the film for release on its channels. But see the full, perfectly edited arc in the theater first.
Full disclosure: I have known, been a fan of, and considered Carla Gutierrez a friend for many years.