In Brief: This biopic about Gloria Steinem is an interesting trip down feminist memory lane.
The Glorias is a biopic based on feminist, Gloria Steinem’s autobiography Life on the Road. Like many a road trip, The Glorias takes off in some odd directions. Sometimes they seem like a good idea and work. At other times they don’t and have you scratching your head and wondering why writer/director Julie Taymor took that particular trip.
Julianne Moore plays Steinem from 40 up. Alicia Vikander does her from age 20 to 40. Lulu Wilson is early teenage Gloria and Ryan Kiera Armstrong plays Steinem as a child. This is where the head-scratching comes into play. Throughout the movie they talk to each other and explain things about their various life experiences.
Most of those conversations take place on a bus. Okay. Bus. Life on the road. Got it. However, some of those conversations work. Some don’t and make you feel like Taymor is padding her movie for length.
At 2:19, it’s a bit long and some of those conversations add very little to the movie and could have been edited out.
If the conversations between the Glorias aren’t weird enough, one interview Steinem does with a journalist turns into an angry, red tornado with a witch-like Steinem circling a poor man who asked a politically incorrect question about how pretty she is and how she dresses. There are several politically correct-emphasizing scenes like that in the film. I get the point but sometimes they are more of a distraction than an emphasis.
Other than that, Taymor’s (Frida, Across the Universe) movie is a pretty good one. She skillfully mixes actual news footage of the time with live action actresses and actors. Seeing those events again and remembering them is actually more fascinating in places than Steinem’s story.
Great performances also help Taymor’s movie. None of actresses playing Steinem look enough like each other to pull it off. So you end up suspending disbelief. It’s worth the suspension. Vikander (Tomb Raider, Ex-Machina) and Wilson give the best Gloria performances though it is Moore who manages to look most like Steinem.
It’s really hard to play a legend much less a legend who is still alive. Vikander does it easily and dominates most of the film. She plays Steinem as rock sure of herself and relaxed about the controversial path she’s taking with her life.
Steinem’s path — she notes in her autobiography — is the only path she could have taken.
In the supporting roles, Bette Midler is an absolute hoot as New York Congresswoman, Bella Abzug. She served in the House from 1971 to 1977 and was a major player in the women’s movement. The always larger-than-life Midler gives a larger-than-life performance that perfectly fits Abzug who was — also — larger-than-life.
Also quite good are Timothy Hutton who plays Steinem’s wandering father and Enid Graham as her psychotic mother.
In some circles, Steinem is — to put it mildly — not all that popular. Depending on the audience, her politics in the 1960s and 1970s, and drive for women’s rights from reproduction to equal pay for equal work were quite controversial.
For many women, Steinem was — and still is — an idol; a woman’s woman who fearlessly fought the good fight for all women. It wasn’t easy and often wasn’t pretty but Steinem never backed down, refused to compromise and when the smoke cleared, Steinem and her allies won more often than they lost.
Whether you agree with Steinem or not, or like her or not, her impact on the planet has been much more positive than negative. We’re all better off — female and MALE — because of her fearless and often selfless fight for equality.
End of preaching.
Director: Julie Taymor
Stars: Julianne Moore, Alicia Vikander, Lulu Wilson, Ryan Kiera Armstrong, Janelle Monae, Bette Midler, Lorraine Toussaint, Timothy Hutton
Lots of weird scenes in this one and I’m not sure some of the surreal stuff was needed to tell Steinem’s life story. On the other hand, the historical perspective and the acting make it worth the view. Give this a 4 on the Friday Flicks with Gary 0 to 5 scale.
The Glorias is streaming on Amazon and can also be purchased.
Gary Wolcott has been reviewing movies on radio, television and newspaper since 1990. He believes — and this is an estimate only — that he’s seen something close to 10,000 movies in his lifetime. Gary is a lifelong fan of films and catches a couple of hundred movies a year. He believes movies ought to be seen on the big screen and not on the small screen in your living room or family room. While he loves movies, he also says reviewing film can be a real sacrifice and that he sees many movies so you don’t have to.
He is one of KXL 101.1 FM’s film critics and joined the news staff in 2014. Gary is also the film critic for Tri-Cities, Washington’s Tri-City Herald.