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The Independent Critic

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Gloria Steinem, Nina Totenberg
Betsy West, Julie Cohen
97 Mins.
Magnolia Pictures

 Award-Winning Doc Feature "RBG" Has Indy Film Fest Special Screening 
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A week before it arrives in select theaters nationwide, the award-winning doc feature RBG had an awards night screening as part of the 2018 Indy Film Fest at Newfields in Midtown Indy. 

On the offbeat chance that you actually have no clue what the film is about, RBG stands for Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the 85-year-old Supreme Court Justice who chose litigation over activism and subsequently has spent an entire lifetime changing the world for the better. 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is an iconic figure these days, though she remains an enigma who is more known within the context of pop culture than within anything resembling her daily life. If you believe comic Kate McKinnon's SNL portrayal of her, you're both incredibly naive and wildly inaccurate. 

At a time in history when bombasticity and outrageousness seems to win the elections and the votes, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whether you agree with her decisions or not, is refreshingly sober in presentation and incredibly well-mannered while not compromising her intelligence nor her legal authority. She knows her authority, yet she uses it wisely and with dignity and decorum. 

Co-directed by veteran TV and doc producers Betsy West and Julie Cohen, RBG is a must see documentary for the legion of Ginsburg fans who've turned the Supreme Court Justice into a badass superhero who would be right at home within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. RBG let's us see that while Ginsburg isn't above appreciating this larger than life mythology, it's not exactly her. 

RBG is an engaging documentary and certainly an entertaining one, though perhaps too much emphasis has been given on the entertainment factor and not  enough on delving deeper within Ginsburg's public facade. 

There's humor in RBG, as well, such as when Ginsburg's children, Jane and James, lightly tease about Ginsburg's notoriously stoic presence by sharing a childhood notebook they created called "When Mom Laughs" - it didn't have very many entries. While this could be interpreted as critical, it's clearly not as the siblings clearly have a deep love and affection for their mother. There are other lighter moments we become privy to, though they often feel sculpted rather than naturally developed such as sharing in Ginsburg's easy rapport with granddaughter Clara Spera, a recent Harvard Law School graduate, or when Ginsburg laughs deep belly laughs watching Kate McKinnon's hilariously inaccurate impersonation. 

It's well known that Ginsburg loves opera, which is well utilized throughout the film, and it's endearing to watch her daily workouts while wearing a "Total Diva" t-shirt. 

Yet, there's something missing in RBG and it keeps a good documentary from becoming a great one. We know that in 1956 Ginsburg was one of only a handful of female law students in a class of 500 at Harvard University, though RBG never really digs deeper to truly discover what has inspired her throughout her life. She's a notorious workaholic, often arriving to work by 9am and not returning home until 3am. What drove this dedication? RBG let's us see inside Ruth Bader Ginsburg's world, but it never digs deep enough that we understand the foundation. 

These are minor quibbles really, however, as RBG is likely to be the film nearly everyone watching it wants it to be. At times entertaining and at times deeply informative, RBG is consummately constructed and effectively edited by Carla Gutierrez. Having premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and subsequently been picked up for distribution by Magnolia Pictures, RBG let's us be a companion to Ruth Bader Ginsburg and while we may not learn everything about her that we'd like to know the experience itself remains an awe-inspiring one.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic