It’s not always the easiest thing to breathe fresh life into a well worn formula but when you’ve got someone or something undeniably compelling it helps to elevate middle of the road material into a memorable and special experience.
RBG leans on some very basic documentary filmmaking choices but has such a compelling subject at its core that it’s easy to forgive some fairly basic and one dimensional filmmaking.
At the age of 84, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has developed a breathtaking legal legacy while becoming an unexpected pop culture icon. However without a definitive Ginsburg biography, the unique personal journey of this diminutive, quiet warrior’s rise to the nation’s highest court has been largely unknown, even to some of her biggest fans and even some of those closest to her. She now opens herself so we can truly understand the legacy of RBG.
While the directing team of Betty West and Julie Cohen really don’t craft anything more here than a lavish love letter to this icon of the law and women’s rights but seeing the story of Ruth Bader Ginsburg get laid out for us all to see is really the magic here as her life did all the heavy lifting and the filmmakers really just had to keep it all on the straight and narrow.
We get a look at her history, told in a fairly chronological fashion as her professional and personal life get spliced together and told by those who know her best, the family she broke her back for and the defendants she stood up for in court with such vigour. We as an audience aren’t necessarily surprised to see the discrimination she faced early on in her own profession but the film rightly never tries to paint her as a victim but instead as a crusader who is determined to change the law and the world that it affects for the better.
There is no critical eye in this film, but Bader Ginsburg is such an iconic figure not only in the law but also in the pop culture zeitgeist that any genuine dissenting voice (which ironically RBG herself has become known for) but it would have felt out of place in this moment. This woman has done so much unequivocal good, that highlighting any legitimate missteps (other than her notorious criticism of Donald Trump which was admittedly out of place and inappropriate) would just feel petty and a little out of place.
Ultimately as far as doc film making goes, RBG is nothing more than a puff piece of cinema but Ruth Bader Ginsburg is just so uniquely compelling as a human being that we as an audience just can’t help but lap up anything and everything that we can get about her.