Tuesday, December 25, 2018

"On the Matter of Sex" and "Mary Poppins Returns"

Those do sound like two incongruous motion pictures. But each is a worthy effort, each in its own way. "On the Matter of Sex" is the second pic this year about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg so for me, the bar was high. But this one comes through--it avoids repeating the first one, which was truly a documentary--and benefits from good writing and acting.

Best choice made in putting it together was to focus on one case, possibly her first, on applying the tax law unequally but in this case, a man was deprived of benefits afforded women. It provided a chance to show how her husband, tax lawyer Marty Ginsburg, supported her across the board, both in strategizing the legal path and managing the home life with two children to care for.

The Harvard Law aspect was of interest to those of us who also are graduates. Sam Waterston, though aged, looks far better than long-time Dean Erwin Griswold ever did. The Griz had toned down his infamous welcoming speech for first-year students by the time I heard it, as it turned out for the last time since he left after 20 years near the end of my first year when he was named Solicitor General. His sexism of 1959 vintage was par for the course in those days. 

Ernie Brown, whom I had as a prof for tax, was terrible as a teacher by then and he too left at the end of the next year to become the grand old man of the Justice Department's Tax Division, from which he retired at 93 a few years ago. Paul Freund was doubtless looking more in 1960 like the youthful player who filled his role in the picture as compared to when I studied constitutional law with him almost a decade later--you got an idea of his urbanity but he didn't seem different enough here from the standard preening law school prof.

The picture's strength was in sticking close to the facts. For example, the three Tenth Circuit judges were the real names and one is credited and given thanks in the crawl for presumably recalling Justice Ginsburg's early argument there. One critic has taken the picture to task for showing her hesitating for a length of time that only could have existed in a film as she rose to argue--apparently this is the only thing that Justice RBG didn't agree with in the film, and she was right. It was a case of the director adding in what the critic called a cliche found in such biopics.

The film also made me rethink my reaction years ago when at a D.C. Circuit Judicial Conference chaired by then-Judge Ginsburg. At the main dinner, she profusely thanked her husband (she called him her "life partner") and I discounted this praise as one of  the ritual thank-yous, usually directed at and for wives. But the picture, and Armie Hammer's magnificent portrayal of Martin Ginsburg, made me appreciate finally that RBG had it right back then. Felicity Jones also did a fine job as RBG.

So too did Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins, returning the character to the screen after oh so many years. I read the four P.L. Travers books featuring Mary P., and Blunt played her the way Travers wrote her: a very tart, sure of herself character with no "Spoonful of Sugar" stuff which did take away from Julie Andrews's great performance in the original picture, especially her singing.

Lin-Manuel Miranda was an excellent Jack, nephew of Dick Van Dyke's Bert the chalk artist in the first picture. The Hamilton creator even had one song which was essentially rap, which he had used to such advantage in Hamilton. The songs, alas, are not quite up to the memorable, if somewhat saccharine, ones in the first picture. But the performances, including a villainous Colin Firth, are. It's the kind of picture where you enjoy their bringing in Angela Lansbury and Van Dyke for cameo "special appearances" near the end, and Meryl Streep providing an amazing turn both singing and dancing as well as acting in creating a novel character. Fun all around.

No comments:

Post a Comment