Gloria Steinem’s life is anything but conventional. This makes capturing her life in a biographical film a hard task. Julie Taymor seems to be up to that task with results I’m still struggling with. Even though thankfully, it has her trademark weirdness, as it jumps between different parts of Steinem’s long life.
Either way, Taymor frames Steinem’s life, or its earlier stages, as one where she bears witness to people standing up for her or themselves. She as a child (Ryan Keira Armstrong) sees this in her father (Timothy Hutton) or when she as a young student (Alicia Vikander) sees it in India.
The movie does give bullet points for those who know nothing about Steinem’s life. Her work in India is one of those points, where she helped a group in India knock on doors and heat the stories of the female villagers. There, she discovers that most of them are victims of physical and sexual assault.
Vikander figures prominently in the movie’s first act in surprisingly her most chill performance. But that chill eventually turns into rage when she experiences the mistreatment that she only sees or hears about. From activist to journalist, she deals with men who think she’s a sex object instead of a writer.
Steinem eventually fights back, which is great, but this is where Taymor’s kookiness occasionally hampers her movie. She frames Steinem’s story as a literal bus ride where the two Glorias accompany two more Glorias. Those two are a teen one (Lulu Wilson) and a version of her in her forties and beyond (Julianne Moore).
It also shows us the older Glorias as the journalist returns to activism. She joins the ranks of women like Dorothy Pittman Hughes (Janelle Monae), who juggle activism and motherhood and other work. But it seems like those supporting characters only exist to give one liners or as sounding boards for Gloria’s ideas.
The switch between young adult Gloria and adult Gloria also feel jarring. The movie is long enough as it is, but it would have been nice to see young Gloria be as confident as the old Gloria. Although to be fair, old Gloria knows how to clap back at those who think that she’s a radical. And those lines are fun to listen to when Julianne Moore says them.
But there’s something touching about watching Steinem’s story in relation to the feminist movement, about how hard it is to be an activist. About an older version of one’s self comforting its younger counterparts. And to celebrate some victories even though the biggest ones come from battles we still must fight together.
Buy, rent or stream The Glorias on Amazon Prime or on YouTube.
- Rated: R
- Genre: Biography, Drama, History
- Release Date: 10/3/2020
- Directed by: Julie Taymor
- Starring: Alicia Vikander, Julianne Moore, Lulu Wilson, Ryan Kiera Armstrong
- Produced by: Alex Saks, Julie Taymor, Lynn Hendee
- Written by: Gloria Steinem, Julie Taymor, Sarah Ruhl
- Studio: Artemis Rising Foundation, Page Fifty-Four Pictures