In between all of the hectic craziness of 2020 — with the election, the pandemic, the protests, and a slew of miscellaneous headlines — we appear to be having a wave of feminist, girl power, and women’s lib themed biopics this year as well. The timing couldn’t be a complete coincidence, as women’s rights usually become a hot topic throughout movements like the civil rights re-awakening this past spring or the presidential election this autumn. Five months ago the FX mini-series “Mrs. America” aired to a good reception, which followed with Phillipa Lowthorpe’s decent “Misbehaviour” in September, to now Julie Taymor’s “The Glorias” slated to start October on Amazon Prime. The third is a feature film that chronicles the life and career of feminist icon and journalism legend Gloria Steinem.
Taymor’s epic biography follows four different actresses portraying Steinem at various stages of life. Ryan Kiera Armstrong shows Gloria as an 8-year-old tap dancer in smalltown Ohio who idolizes her out-of-work father (played by Timothy Hutton); 15-year-old Gloria is Lulu Wilson, now stuck with her ever sickly mother (Enid Graham) in even worse conditions; Alicia Vikander plays Gloria from the 1950s to early 1970s where she goes from disrespected columnist to co-founding her own women-aimed publication with Ms. Magazine; finally, Julianne Moore gives us the later years of Gloria as spokesperson of the American Women’s Liberation Movement who dodges questions about never marrying or starting a family.
Interestingly enough, I think all three feminist history pieces were released in order of quality. “The Glorias” is about a swing and a miss for me. By far, the most interesting and engaging portions of the movie are centered on Vikander during Gloria’s young adult years. The actress is just as charming and sophisticated as Steinem was in her youth, and it’s easy to see how she won over so many women around the world. Moore is fine as the older Gloria, as she usually is, and Wilson has a steady career ahead of her if she wants to continue acting as she gets older. But I’ve just never been a huge fan of Taymor’s directing style. “Frida” (2002) was fine, though I still believe it should have been completely in Spanish, and I found “Across the Universe” (2007) mostly tedious, even as a big Beatles fan. “The Glorias” starts out as a surprisingly traditionally structured biopic but then saves all the artsy Taymor-isms for when Moore takes over the film, making the tone and atmosphere feel disjointed and inconsistent. The use of narration through the various Glorias speaking to each other on a fantasy bus ride is also a bit of an odd storytelling decision.
“The Glorias” had a lot of potential between the intriguing subject matter, talented cast, and impressive production values, yet misses the mark stylistically.