Review: Julie Taymor's messy biopic 'The Glorias' tells admirable tale
Courtesy of Roadside Attractions/Prime Video
In the wake of Ruth Bader Gingsburg’s passing, women’s rights and feminist warriors need to be cherished more than ever. So tells the tale of Julie Taymor’s rough-around-the-edges biopic “The Glorias'' which takes a nontraditional approach to the life and times of trailblazer Gloria Steinem. Taymor - probably best known to audiences for her Beatles musical “Across The Universe” - felt so impassioned about the legacy of Steinem that she asked four actress to play her (two of them Oscar winners).
Julianne Moore plays Steinhem in her later years, Ryan Kiera Armstrong tackles Steinhem as a child and there’s Lulu Wilson as Gloria, the teenager with Alicia Vikander honing the women’s rights activist in her twenties and thirties. All four bring a respectable pedigree to the table and all four turn in solid performances.
But it's Vikaner and Moore who drive this train, amplifying early scenes of Steinem’s rise to fame, be it her career making expose on Playboy and their harsh working conditions, or the co-founding of the Ms. Magazine in 1972. Anyone that just watched Cate Blanchett ham it up on “Mrs. America” (the miniseries had Rose Byrne playing Steinem) will likely notice a few similarities and actually works as a decent companion to Taymor’s script.
An adaptation of Steinem’s 2016 memoir, “My Life on the Road,” Taymor certainly incorporates the more fantastical elements of the novel to the screen. Notably visual effects in the form of two Gloria’s (Vikander and Moore) sitting side-by-side discussing their livelihood and the decisions that shaped their careers on a bus going nowhere. It’s a messy framing device that doesn’t so much dig deeper into Steinem’s legacy but provide a wide lens for Taymor to play with. Do these self-reflective conversations lead to anything? Not particularly, but as a form of therapy for Steinhem, I’m sure it worked wonders.
The usual biopic troupes are peppered in throughout and the timeline is constantly evolving. Steinem grew up in Toledo, Ohio, as the daughter of a scheming traveling salesman (Timothy Hutton - wonderful) and a ruthless journalist mother (Enid Graham) whose most prominent pieces were published under a male pseudonym. Eventually, she went to live in India for two years before ending up at prominent newspaper publications, only to leave when her male superiors offered sex for promotions.
But just as quickly as we’re learning these tidbits, Taymore pushes full steam ahead, sometimes undermining major events that helped shape the Equal Rights Amendment. Which is partially why you should view this with “Mrs. America,” because the latter will help fill in the gaps, albeit, from a different perspective.
“The Glorias” fails to highlight how Africian-Americans and multicultural reformers progressed the women’s liberation movement. Real life figures Dorothy Pitman Hughes (Janelle Monae), Flo Kennedy (Lorraine Toussaint), Dolores Huerta (Monica Sanchez) and Wilma Mankiller (Kimberly Guerrera) - the first woman elected chief of the Cherokee Nation! - make brief appearances before getting pushed to the sidelines. Running close to the two-and-a-half hour marker, you wonder why some of these figures didn’t get more attention.
Then you remember this is Steinem’s tale and despite its zig zag through several key moments in history, watching talented actors bring these characters to life is a rejuvenating experience. One that hits differently when you realize the war these brave women waged in 1972 is still happening in our own backyard today.
THE GLORIAS debuts on digital and streams exclusively on Prime Video starting Wednesday September 30th.