- The Magazine
Julie Taymor is a director always up for adventure, be it onstage with Simba or Spider-Man, or in films from Frida to Across the Universe. And for Taymor’s latest, The Glorias (★★☆☆☆), the film’s real-life subject Gloria Steinem provided a vivid roadmap to her exploits, with her 2015 memoir My Life on the Road. Yet, however Steinem might have portrayed her extraordinary life in print, The Glorias doesn’t add up to that adventurous of a biopic.
Taymor and screenwriter Sarah Ruhl — known for theater work like her Passion Play cycle, which premiered at Arena Stage — dash the movie with fantasy and dream sequences that interject verve and theatricality. But those poetic interludes rarely add to the film’s storytelling, which rolls through Steinem’s trailblazing chronology, from nomadic childhood as a bright, well-read little girl, to brilliant and brazen observer of Sixties culture, to avatar of an earthshaking social movement.
The Glorias of different ages interact in the film, but outside the realm of time, on a bus bound to who knows where (until we learn where). The girl she was at eight-years old, and the woman she was at 25 and at 40 confer with each other, confessing Gloria’s true feelings at pivotal moments in her life. The device helps keep the film moving, although whenever the Glorias are explaining the story, we’re not seeing it dramatized. And, after Gloria’s tough childhood, the movie doesn’t dramatize much at all. Events in her adult life feel recreated, posed simply to mark an interview she gave, or a rally she attended. And her grownup faults or foibles appear to be off the table completely.
Scenes of young Gloria (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) are dominated by the moving performances of Enid Graham, as her long-suffering mother Ruth, and Timothy Hutton as dad Leo, a traveling salesman and small-time scam artist. Ruth, in the eyes of teenage Gloria (Lulu Wilson), is a woman whose spirit was broken and probably had been before Gloria was even born. But when twentysomething Gloria, played stiffly by Alicia Vikander, thinks of dad Leo fondly, he’s the peripatetic bon vivant who taught her to feast at the banquet of life. Remembered less fondly later, he’s the fear of abandonment or commitment that might have dogged her own relationships — not that this film seems the slightest bit interested in Steinem’s relationships, beyond familial. Although, once older sister Susanne (Olivia Olson) is out of the house, she’s gone from the movie, too, save for a bomb-dropping phone call in the late-going.
Famous feminist figures like Bella Abzug (Bette Midler) and Dorothy Pitman Hughes (Janelle Monáe) also pop in and out, not really to relate to Gloria, but rather to relay their part in her biography. Limning exposition almost all of the time, the movie doesn’t give Julianne Moore, as the seasoned Steinem who led the National Women’s Political Caucus and still stands strong among us, much to do but look picture-perfect playing the black-clad, rule-breaking boss of Ms. Magazine. An inspiration to career girls, suburban moms, and biker chicks alike, Ms. Steinem deserves a more inspiring film adventure.
The Glorias is available for purchase on digital and streaming exclusively on Amazon Prime Video. Visit www.primevideo.com.
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