The Glorias, 2020.
Directed by Julie Taymor.
Starring Julianne Moore, Alicia Vikander, Bette Midler, Lulu Wilson, Janelle Monáe, Timothy Hutton, Lorraine Toussaint, Allie McCulloch, Mo Brings Plenty, Ryan Kiera Armstrong, Kimberly Guerrero, Victor Slezak, Tom Nowicki, Charles Green, Monica Sanchez, Deetta West, Bethany Geaber, Annika Pampel, and Enid Graham.
The story of feminist icon Gloria Steinem’s itinerant childhood’s influence on her life as a writer, activist and organizer for women’s rights worldwide.
Director Julie Taymor (co-writing alongside Sarah Ruhl, adapting Gloria Steinem’s own book documenting her adventures and political activism) has an intriguing framing device with The Glorias to solve the biopic slayer that is a life chronicling structure. On a bus seemingly to nowhere with monochrome interior visuals and the world of color on the outside, the eponymous Glorias are seated surrounding one another, separated but very much the same individual. Rising in age, this includes Ryan Kiera Armstrong (the youngest depiction), Lulu Wilson (the teenage years), Alicia Vikander (finding her activist voice as an upstart journalist going against the chauvinistic grain), and Julianne Moore (the assured and iconic feminist and equal rights icon that takes no shit), with Julie Taymor revisiting this endless ride periodically at key points in Gloria Steinem’s life, where past and present selves interact with one another ruminating on life.
Backing things up a bit, it’s an artistic decision that would be fascinating whether it’s a study of an average person or a real-life trailblazer such as Gloria Steinem. It’s not just an A to Z cliff notes presentation of someone’s life, as now there are existential detours analyzing these choices, the growth of Gloria Steinem as a person, her successes, her sacrifices, and potential regrets; every time the movie goes back to that bus there’s a sensation that The Glorias is tapping into something most biopics never do because they are preoccupied with Oscar-bait performances, stunning period piece details, and an inspirational but broad and accessible journey. The Glorias still has all of those things (Alicia Vikander and Julianne Moore are not only terrific, as there is also some slick anachronistic editing that’s never immediately noticeable considering, barring age, the filmmakers have accomplished making the Glorias look near identical, never breaking that immersion of watching the same person), and now it has a stimulating way to tie everything together.
Early on, Gloria Steinem’s home life proves to be influential, discovering that her mother Ruth (Enid Graham) used to be a journalist but gave up the passion to be a parent, while also enjoying the company of her antique salesman father Leo (Timothy Hutton). Primarily living life on the road to sustain Leo’s work, Gloria’s life is upended when her mother becomes delusional and severely ill, causing separation and hardships that the film wisely doesn’t focus too hard on for emotional purposes. These experiences are not just limited to family, as there is also a moving scene of her encounter with a young Black girl around her age, planting those seeds for her eventual fight against racial injustices.
It’s far beyond family and childhood that shaped Gloria Steinem into a modern-day historical figure, and The Glorias is determined to touch on damn near all of it, from her journalist days (which includes a great segment seeing her expose toxic working conditions for the Playboy bunny girls) to going her own way and starting the revolutionary Ms. Magazine to her alliances with Flo Kennedy (a feisty Lorraine Toussaint with a dazzling wardrobe and bite) to women’s liberation work to getting involved with Native Americans. Yes, there is a lot here (I’m suspecting that the running time has actually further blown up since it premiered at Sundance because not only does the official listing on IMDb get longer and longer, but the movie itself is longer than anything reported, clocking in at 147 minutes), and perhaps a tiny bit too much.
There comes a point where The Glorias becomes less personal and more about informing of all her good deeds without much insight beyond the acts themselves. That’s not to say there needs to be artificial drama, but it’s also not good that the film begins to feel like a lecture instead of a full-fledged narrative. Even the creative asides where past and present Gloria Steinem’s are talking to one another become less frequent. It reaches a point where one character is dying except it’s hard to feel anything seeing as the movie is all over the place and said character had maybe 10 minutes of screen time.
It would also be wrong to say that The Glorias loses its way, as there are brilliant sequences such as the official transition from Alicia Vikander to Julianne Moore. It’s not Julie Taymor getting to a time and date in Gloria Steinem’s life and saying it’s time to bring in Julianne Moore, but rather a powerful character development beat assisted by a visually arresting set piece making use of The Wizard of Oz. For every conventional biopic trope, there’s also something vibrant and imaginative. When you have outstanding talents such as Alicia Vikander and Julianne Moore anchoring both of those polar opposite approaches, The Glorias is able to do right by honoring Gloria Steinem.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com