RBG offers a cathartic bit of hero worship to comfort in hard times



  Despite how important the American judiciary is to our daily lives – arguably more important than the executive and legislative branches with how judicial appointments can last decades and can have ramifications that last even longer – it's relatively rare for the members of the Supreme Court to be household names if one isn't connected to the legal profession. This makes the pop culture ascendency of Ruth Bader Ginsburg even more astounding, as she became a beacon of feminist iconography under the moniker of the "Notorious RBG." RBG aims to explore that rise in notoriety, painting a portrait of a formerly unsung hero of the 20th century who became the inspirational focus of an entire generation of women in the 21st.
  Documentarians Julie Cohen and Betsy West split the focus of their film between Ginsburg's personal and professional lives, though the line between the two is not as divided as what some might consider reasonable or even healthy. With the exception of her family, Ginsburg quickly exposes the greatest love of her life to be her work in the law, as the fight for female equality has defined her career both prior to her time serving on the bench and in the decades wearing the robes. As a young attorney in a time when women attorneys were considered unhireable, Ginsburg directed her efforts to arguing some of the most influential cases for women's equality before the Supreme Court, in effect teaching a bench comprised entirely of men what it means to be a second-class citizen in a culture that has rarely challenged that stratification. This eventually led to a seat on the Court where she became known as the Great Dissenter, a force of liberal venom against a Court dominated by conservative voices.
  However, as much as her legal and professional victories are the centerpiece to Ruth Bader Ginsburg's legacy, RBG is equally interested in figuring out the pop cultural fascination with the Justice. Personality-wise, Ginsburg is at first glance an unlikely hero: reserved, small, apparently frail. But beneath that exterior is a vicious wit and a brilliant mind, driven to inspire with her work and to continually better herself. She is a lover of the arts and a devoted matriarch to her family, but she is also a symbol of female excellence heading to the top of her profession, supported by a loving husband who was more than happy to let her reach her potential in a time when women weren't supposed to overshadow their husbands. She's a fascinating figure who is only enhanced by her subversive charms and complete ambivalence to her personal place in history, only the role she can play in the aims of social progress.
   RBG is pretty blatant in its adoration and hero worship of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, fashioning her as a hopeful representative of how this country might survive the destructive legacy of the current presidential administration, which is appreciated even if somewhat heavy-handed. It certainly helps, though, that the reverential tone is kept light and the information presented is balanced between humanistic character study and a deconstruction of legacy. As an attorney myself, I was already familiar with a lot of the information presented in RBG, but even without learning a lot I found it a very entertaining time and a worthy spotlight on a hero of legal feminist progressivism. If you are unfamiliar with Ginsburg's work, then the lessons contained within RBG are even more important. Even if documentaries aren't your first choice for a trip to the cinema, maybe reconsider for RBG. You might just be inspired.

4/5 stars
Leigh Monson is technically a licensed attorney but somehow thinks being a film critic is a lot more fun. Leigh loves both award darlings and hilariously bad films, does not believe in superhero movie fatigue, and calls it like he sees it.