The first image we see of 85-year-old Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a montage of her doing push-ups, planks and stretching, way beyond what you’d expect of an octogenarian. “She’s like a machine”, according to her personal trainer. “She’s the closest thing to a superhero I know,” says Gloria Steinem. Directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West explore the ‘why’ behind these statements and deliver an informative portrait of the woman that went from being one of nine women in a class of over 500 at Harvard Law School to the second woman elected to the US supreme court. They use archive footage and recent talking-head interviews to chronicle the life of a truly fascinating woman who continues to this day to fight for gender equality and speak truth to power.
It offers many entertaining sequences, not least one featuring the usually very reserved Ginsburg watching a clip of Kate McKinnon impersonating her on SNL. However, the documentary tends to remain somewhat surface-level in its chronological approach, never providing much insight into how she affects new generations of feminists or how her newfound cult status impacts women’s rights today, preferring instead a largely hagiographic tone. That aside, it succeeds in being a timely comment on how far the US has fallen: without spelling it out but by showing her many exceptional accomplishments, you are left with RBG’s eloquent words echoing in your ears, words which singularly contrast with Trump’s recent supreme court pick. Indeed, three-time alleged sexual assaulter and newly elected justice Brett Kavanaugh’s “I like beer” doesn’t have the same inspirational weight as Ginsburg quoting Sarah Grimké: “I ask for no favour for my sex – all I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.” Strange times we live in, and this celebratory documentary gives some hope when witnessing that the “Notorious RBG” still has some fight left in her.
RBG | Directed by Julie Cohen, Betsy West (US, 2018). Starts December 13.
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