Having heard great things about the recently released documentary, RBG, my wife and I decided to see it. We don’t see many films in the theater these days, so this was something of an event in and of itself. After watching the film we both had the same assessment: mediocre. Typically, I wouldn’t review a piece of media that falls into the “mediocre” category, but I want to express my thoughts and feelings as to why.
My main issue with the film is its relative superficiality. It takes an interesting and unique subject and treats it in a fairly mundane and predictable way. It essentially traces her life story, intertwining personal and professional narratives. It paints a picture of an exceptionally energetic and passionate individual with a great sense of humor who was a true fighter for equal protection under the law. Beyond that, there’s not much that it adds to an already robust portrait of RBG.
The filmmakers had exceptional access to RBG. I wish they had explored her personal relationships with Supreme Court Justices like Antonin Scalia, providing an honest and nuanced example of how people with radically different legal and political beliefs could still extend one another mutual respect and remain in conversation. I wish they had, as my wife pointed out, probed RBG to express what it feels like to issue dissenting opinions and rulings from the Supreme Court. And lastly, I wish they had explored the concept of “dissent” more thoroughly, demonstrating how dissenting opinions empower the minority by ensuring that its voice is heard and documented for posterity.
A few years ago, we purchased a children’s book about RBG to read to our kids. That short book did more to highlight RBG’s Jewish identity, her accomplishments, and her vital role as a dissenting opinion more effectively that the documentary did.
Not a horrible film, just a series of missed opportunities.