Starring Julianne Moore, Alicia Vikander, Janelle Monáe, Timothy Hutton, Bette Midler, Kimberly Guerrero, Lorraine Toussaint
Too young to remember writer, feminist, and political activist Gloria Steinem? This film by Julie Taymor (“Frida”), based on Steinem’s autobiography, not only documents her achievements but her struggle along the way. Taymor doesn’t give you a run-of-the-mill biopic, which is based on Steinem’s recent book. “The Glorias” aims for the details you don’t know and introduces her to a new generation. Three different actors, including Oscar-winners Alicia Vikander (“The Danish Girl”) and Julianne Moore (“Still Alice”) portray Steinem, even having conversations with each other. Some of Taymor’s eclectic cinematic choices work well at keeping the audience curious about what artistic liberties she will take in the next scene. Some however jolt the viewer out of the story, reminding us we are watching a movie.
As a young girl growing up in Toledo, Gloria (Lulu Wilson) has the same dreams as other girls her age, grow up, marry the man of her dreams, have a house, a dog, and three kids. It’s a reinforced American ideal that never comes true for Gloria, whose parents split up while she is young. Right out of college Gloria (Vikander) travels to India where she observes such atrocities against women, that it pushes her toward activism and eventually writing about woman’s issues in New York. Constantly being told what to write, which was rarely about the issues she cares about, she and other activists Dorothy Pitman Hughes (Monáe) and Flo Kennedy (Toussaint), start their own magazine called Ms. Eventually it’s public speaking where Gloria (Moore) finds her true voice and calling.
Taymor could have easily tried to tell all these colorful characters stories, gone off on narrative tangents, but she always keeps the focus on Gloria’s perspectives.
As much as The Gloria’s is a celebration of Steinem’s life and accomplishments, it’s also about her vulnerability, mistakes, and regrets. The film’s edit jolts the audience forward in time, then back again, rarely having an obvious rhythm. The pay off to this choice occurs in the third act when Vikander and Moore’s Gloria’s get to converse in the black and white of Steinem’s sub-conscious, on a bus heading towards the unknown. Taymor’s ambitious two and a half hour epic biopic include vivacious performances from Bette Midler as Bella Abzug, sobering turns from the likes of Kimberly Guerrero and even those that anger, Timothy Hutton as a lovingly selfish Leo Steinem. Taymor keeps us emotionally invested even when we would rather mentally check out or at least take a break.
While the film made it’s debut at Sundance in January 2020, the mention of Ruth Bader Ginsberg has even more weight now, with the film set to release only days after her passing. Taymor could have easily tried to tell all these colorful character’s stories by going off on narrative tangents, but she always keeps the focus on Gloria’s perspectives despite the era and groundbreaking events happening around one woman. The film ends on a more powerful note than where we began, though it struggles along the way to achieve that outcome.
Vikander’s grounded performance, risky artistic creative choices and a scene stealing Bette Midler elevate The Glorias beyond just another biopic.