One would think that a biopic about equal rights trailblazer and no-nonsense icon Gloria Steinem would be your standard, politically charged fare. However, “The Glorias,” based on Steinem’s 2015 autobiography “My Life on the Road,” is anything but the conventional film viewers would expect.
Filmmaker Julie Taymor brings us an inventive offering that uses elements of arthouse, fantasy and visually stylistic films. At times, her added flourishes are both brilliant and somewhat silly. A segment featuring a macho television reporter accusing Steinem of being just another pretty face uses “Wizard of Oz” features and manages to be both absurd and effective at the same time. Even when following the normal pathway of a biographical feature, Taymor still adds flashbacks and scenes out of chronological order to add punch to the winding road that has been Steinem’s life.
Played by four different actresses from a young girl to an older lady, “The Glorias” stars Julianne Moore as an older Steinem and Alicia Vikander as the college-aged to young career woman. Steinem’s early career as a struggling journalist, her transition into women’s rights, the ERA and her creation of Ms. Magazine are featured and well documented. The film also highlights scenes from Steinem’s growing-up years in the 1940s and 1950s. Key points in Steinem’s life are played out, as I said, in non-chronological order, yet the lack of a solid timeline is surprisingly easy to follow and makes complete sense to the audience.
The film boasts a powerful supporting cast, including an undependable yet warm and fuzzy Timothy Hutton as Steinem’s nomadic father, beautifully stoic and powerful Janelle Monae as Dorothy Pitman Hughes, and Kimberly Guerrero as Steinem friend Wilma Mankiller. A competition of sorts between scenery chewing Lorraine Toussaint as activist Flo Kennedy and the always hilarious Bette Midler as Bela Abzug may have resulted in a pleasing and wonderful tie. The two give the largely serious film a welcome comedic spark.
Moore and Vikander do a superior job and each have a moment to shine; Vikander has the task of playing the young and somewhat more adventurous Steinem, with Moore coming in at the last segment of the film as the older, more grounded and solid lady. In the moments of the film where the various “Glorias” converse and confide in one another, it is Moore’s performance that brings validation and a place for the others to be drawn to.
Regardless of the obvious political overtones and the somewhat preachy message that the film works hard to bring forward, this is still a well-told story with much more to be told – as is evident when the real Steinem takes over at the end of the film. Taymor manages to avoid making Steinem into a sainted figure and does an admirable job of showing us how the very human lady evolved into one of the most important women of our time.
“The Glorias” may be a tad long and a bit draggy in spots, but is largely a well done film that is worth seeing. My grade is a B+ for the length and also for a few misplaced fantasy sequences and some preachy qualities in the film, but an “A” for the acting ensemble and clever chronological ordering.
“The Glorias” is rated R for some language and lewd images and runs 147 minutes. It debuts Sept. 30 on Amazon Prime.