“The Glorias” – “The path up is always a jagged line, not a straight one.” – Gloria Steinem
“Roam if you want to. Roam around the world. Roam if you want to, without wings, without wheels.” – The B-52s, “Roam”
Most folks probably know feminist icon Gloria Steinem from “Ms.” (magazine) and her trademark glasses, but this influential trailblazer is a whole lot more than her 49-year-old publication and fancy spectacles.
There’s only one Gloria Steinem. That’s true, except in writer/director Julie Taymor’s “The Glorias”, a Steinem biopic with four actresses donning her activist cape. The movie runs from the 1940s to 2017, and Ryan Kiera Armstrong, 10, and Lulu Wilson, 14, cover her childhood, and Alicia Vikander and Julianne Moore split duties during her adult years.
Although the narrative – broadly speaking – does progress in chronological time, Taymor and Sarah Ruhl’s screenplay – inspired and adapted from Steinem’s book “My Life on the Road” – doesn’t follow traditional patterns.
“The Glorias” takes an arthouse approach to Ms. Steinem’s 86 years of life and recognizes the woman’s accomplishments but utilizes the four actresses as ever-present beings from the past and future.
Taymor regularly inserts our protagonist’s memories and milestones out of sequential order. Armstrong, Wilson, Vikander, or Moore may appear on-screen any minute for a flashback, a flashforward, or a conversation between two Glorias, as the older one offers advice to her younger self.
These style choices allow for an organic look into GS’s mindset, challenges, personal growth, and society’s changing attitudes towards women over the decades, especially during the 1960s and 1970s. On the other hand, the film takes trippy, unnecessary cuts into the spacetime continuum over 2 hours and 27 minutes. On a couple of occasions, it dives into bizarre territory, including a brief red tornado montage that combines “Natural Born Killers” (1994) and “The Wizard of Oz” (1939).
Not unlike Dorothy (Judy Garland), Gloria came from humble beginnings, and the first act chronicles her mom’s (Enid Graham) and dad’s (Timothy Hutton) individual and marital struggles. Graham and Hutton deliver the film’s most engaging performances, as Steinem’s parents pour insight into her foundation. Ruth’s (Graham) mental illness challenges forged Gloria’s empathy, and Leo’s (Hutton) fly-by-night barker business approach fueled her desire for travel. Sure, her folks weren’t perfect human beings, but their passed-down gifts of compassion and adventure are Ms. Steinem’s coveted assets.
For historians, baby boomers, and anyone who knows the Women’s Movement, Steinem’s life might be already well-chronicled, but Taymor’s picture certainly is an informative look for anyone unfamiliar with her work. Her story has a few surprises, including a trek to a specific faraway land (that will not be revealed in this review) and an insider’s look into a salacious profession. We also discover that this famous spokeswoman had a fear of public speaking. Gloria, however, found her calling by speaking out, as the film places our heroine in unpleasant, sexist spaces that will make John and Jane Q. Citizen balk with revulsion or possibly recoil into post-traumatic work-environment stress.
These moments resonate, but as this Toledo native’s activism turns into accomplishments, the movie starts to feel like a checklist. Granted, Steinem racked up countless achievements, but from a storytelling perspective, I wouldn’t have objected to a 90-minute account on the formation and booming success of “Ms.”. In fact, the single most resonate image in the entire film is when an overworked, exhausted mom – coping with three screaming kids raising holy hell at the dinner table – reads a passage from the said periodical and slams it – along with her disgust – into her husband’s chest.
We needed more of that and more of Lorraine Toussaint as civil rights activist Flo Kennedy, who is a complete joy to watch.
Learning about Gloria’s empathy – including civil rights for women and people of color – is a pleasure as well, but understanding her passion for the road travels a bit less, primarily because Taymor’s countless scenes of a Greyhound bus with one, two, three, or four Glorias aboard.
The filmmakers certainly got a lot of mileage out of that bus, as Armstrong, Wilson, Vikander, or Moore rode the 40-foot metallic chariot about 50 times, and Gloria connected with herself and her travels. Does this movie connect with the audience? It didn’t for me.
Still, I’m a Steinem fan and even covered her speaking engagement at Arizona State University in 2007. I think she gave me a quote too.
Maybe my quote about this movie is: “I look up to Ms. Steinem, but ‘The Glorias’ is a jagged line, not a straight one.”
⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐
(It’s available for purchase on Digital and Streaming exclusively on Prime Video beginning on Sept. 30.)
Image credits: Roadside Attractions; Trailer credits: Movie coverage