RBG

May 22, 2018 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Gloria Steinem, Nina Totenberg
Directed by: Julie Cohen (“American Veteran”) and Betsy West (debut)

It probably won’t become the definitive film on U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life and 60-year legal career, but the documentary “RBG” is a satisfying start.

Referring to the initialed moniker of the trailblazing judge and champion of women’s rights, “RBG” is a solid, albeit slight, glimpse into the inspiring story of the 85-year-old Ginsburg. From the Brooklyn-born daughter of Russian Jewish parents to one of the three female justices currently serving on the nine-judge bench, Ginsburg has become a cultural icon. Early in her career as counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, she made a name for herself by trying more than 300 gender discrimination cases, including six in front of the SCOTUS, five of which she won.

In “RBG,” directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West use talking-head interviews with childhood friends, family members, colleagues and others who have known Ginsburg throughout the years, to illuminate aspects of the justice’s work on the bench and her private life. While much of what comes out of the mouths of the interviewees might be considered hero-worship, Cohen and West do a reasonable job of not allowing it to get out of hand, although journalist and activist Gloria Steinem at one point describes Ginsberg as the “closest thing to a superhero I know.”

If you want to get to know Ginsberg on a personal level, the most effective sections of the documentary are when Cohen and West focus on her loving relationship with her late husband Martin. Through home videos and photos, audiences get an opportunity to identify with Ginsberg as more than the crown-wearing, meme-ified persona trending on Twitter.

Still, as enjoyable as it sometimes is to see Ginsberg train at a gym, attend the opera and laugh at comedian Kate McKinnon impersonating her on “Saturday Night Live” (“That’s a Ginsburn!”), the elements of Ginsberg’s life that are truly fascinating are the landmark court cases she presided over that changed the course of history, like Frontiero v. Richardson, Ledbetter v. Goodyear and United States v. Virginia, all of which are covered in “RBG.” Unfortunately, they’re not explored in much depth. This proves that Ginsberg is a subject for a 12-part docuseries, not a 97-minute teaser.

We won’t fault the film too much for glossing over most of the cases and trying to make “RBG” easier to digest for audiences not interested in listening to any legalese. But there is enough content for a few sequels if Cohen and West are so inclined. Until then, “RBG” is good enough. It’s surface-level stuff, but it still speaks truth to power — something everyone could use currently in this toxic political climate.

Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg

October 21, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Susan Stamberg, Viola Harris
Directed by: Aviva Kempner (“The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg”)

Even before Barbara Billingsly, Donna Reed and Lucille Ball found their way onto black and white TV sets in the 1950s, it was a lesser known entertainer who would pave the way for actresses in a male-dominated industry and help give birth to what is known today as the character-driven sitcom.

Her name was Gertrude Berg and for three decades she was recognized as the First Lady of Radio with her daytime serial drama “Rise of the Goldbergs.” In 1949, Berg, who was the creator, producer, writer, and star of the show, would bring “The Goldbergs” to the small screen where it preceded such sitcoms as “I Love Lucy,” “Leave it to Beaver,” and “The Donna Reed Show.” It aired for seven years on both CBS and NBC.

In the documentary film “Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg,” (named after an early-morning salutation given on the show), filmmaker Aviva Kempner (“The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg”) captures how “The Goldbergs” transcended race, religion, and economic status to become one of the most beloved shows of the era.

Taking on the lead role of Molly Goldberg, a kindhearted and assertive Jewish matriarch living with her family in the Bronx, Berg became a woman of firsts: the first woman to sign a million dollar contract with a show advertiser; the first woman to win an Emmy. She also strayed from making any of her characters stereotypical.

Through archive footage of past shows, interviews with Berg, and fresh interviews with individuals who grew up with “The Goldbergs,” Kempner doesn’t necessarily have any groundbreaking points to make about Berg’s contribution to the entertainment industry, but there are enough charming (and heartbreaking) anecdotes to make you wonder what other noteworthy programming is out there in television history that we may have missed.