Review: RBG (2018)

Directors: Betsy West, Julie Cohen
Starring: Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Gloria Steinem, Nina Totenberg
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some thematic elements and language
Genre: Documentary
Theatrical Release Date: May 11, 2018
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%

RBG was released just a couple weeks after the record-breaking Avengers: Infinity War and, even though one is fact and the other is fiction, the two have more in common that one might expect for a documentary and a science-fiction/fantasy epic.  They both feature superheroes, the woman at the center of RBG being much more of an unlikely one than the expected ones in Avengers.  Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been a sitting Supreme Court Justice for quite a long time, and has gradually become the most liberal and outspoken among them (and, at 85 years old, the oldest).  Ever since the addition of more conservative justices such as Samuel Alito, Ginsburg has been dissenting more and more.  And, in 2016, during the fraught Presidential race, Ginsburg made a controversial, opinionated statement about then-candidate Donald Trump (one with which I wholeheartedly agree), for which she later had to apologize.  

Betsy West and Julie Cohen’s biopic isn’t meant for right-wing conservatives, and I am guessing (assuming, rather) that nearly everyone who sees the movie is a liberal like myself.  But that is typically the case with politically-inclined movies such as this.  I will be the first to admit that I don’t always enjoy documentaries, and will usually only watch them when they are nominated for the Oscars.  In order to catch my attention outside Oscar season, a non-fiction film needs to feature a character or subject who/that I find extraordinarily fascinating — and the Notorious RBG (a phrase that inspired numerous memes) certainly fits that definition.  

West and Cohen’s film is a true biographical piece, focusing on Ginsburg’s 85 years on this earth.  Prior to viewing this movie, my knowledge of the petite justice was fairly limited, although I was already a fan, especially after seeing her committed work-outs on Stephen Colbert’s Late Show.  (As her personal trainer says during RBG, Ginsburg is basically a “cyborg,” a “machine.”)  The movie features interview with Ginsburg herself, as well as her children and granddaughter, childhood friends, reporters, fellow lawyers, and even former President Bill Clinton (who nominated her for the Supreme Court). 

What is perhaps so remarkable about Ginsburg is that she doesn’t see herself as remarkable, and her tiny stature makes her appear unassuming and her quiet, reserved demeanor belies a ferocity and conviction that helped her win all but one of her cases against the Supreme Court.  And, for a woman who has been through two separate bouts of cancer (she lost her reliable, long-standing, and hilarious husband to cancer in 2010), she looks amazing.  

RBG is also a well-made documentary, interspersing Ginsburg’s earlier life with her life now, in addition to excerpts from her 1993 Supreme Court Justice confirmation hearing (why, hello there, smiling Joe Biden, how I’ve missed thee!).  And, even though there is no video of her time on the bench, there is audio, and you can hear the strength in her voice — that never wavers, despite what she is often up against. 

Grade: A