Directed by Betsy West and Julie Cohen and co-produced by Storyville Films and CNN Films, RBG is a documentary about the life and career of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, also known as “The Notorious RBG”. Justice Ginsburg a pop-culture icon in her own right is finally getting the biography she deserves.
RBG excels in its portrayal of its subject. Humble, and reserved, Ginsburg is not one to tout her long list of accomplishments, so Cohen and West expertly do it for her in a way that is both refreshing and robust. She is the woman who can do it all, which becomes clear after hearing testimony from high school friends and colleagues who detail stories of her tireless work ethic and dedication to her craft. With masterful skill, the directors include testimony from those ideologically opposed to Ginsburg to underscore how formidable of a woman she is. No matter the person’s political affiliation, she is spoken of in high regard.
Where other documentaries would have focused more heavily on Ginsburg’s legislative accomplishments, this documentary is about balance. There is a delicate balance between past and present, between home and work life, between old and new, and in the narrative, between showing and telling. As much as we see Ginsburg in her chambers, huddled over depositions or selecting which robe to wear to court, we equally get to know her through the eyes of her granddaughter Clara, who calls her “Bubby” or her children, Jane and James, who refer to her simply, as “Mom”. Cameras also follow Justice the gym and into opera houses, where there, she is not worrying about writing dissenting opinions, but rather relaxing and enjoying her free time.
Perhaps the strongest and most touching narrative in the film is the storyline of her fifty plus year marriage to her late, husband Marty, whose love and devotion helped catapult her to a seat on the Supreme Court. His role in her life, central to her overall storyline, does not eclipse hers but compliments it. There is no person interviewed, whose words paint a more vivid picture of Ginsburg than of the man she says “was the first boy [at Cornell] who cared I had a brain”.
RBG wants its audience to recognize why “The Notorious RBG” has become a millennial icon. In their director’s statement, West and Cohen explain their intention for this film is for “audiences to see for themselves the Notorious RBG in action”. It is a daring feat, which was not made easy by the laundry list of Ginsburg’s accomplishments, but West and Cohen are more than capable of crafting a compelling documentary narrative. After 97 minutes, West and Cohen no longer want you to question why The Notorious RBG is “having a moment”. Despite her age and concerns for health, Justice Ginsburg is still “staying up late into the night crafting blistering dissents and doing the planks, squats, and push-ups that keep her in shape to do the job she loves.” For all that hard work, she is honored with a film that more than highlights the immense impact she has had in this country.
RBG premieres in theatres May 4th, 2018.