I was never less than enthralled by Julie Taymor's The Glorias, A Gloria Steinem biopic opening on Amazon on September 30th that simultaneously captures Steinem with all her glorious complexities while also doing much to humanize the civil rights icon. The Glorias gives us an almost reverent Julie Taymor, whose trademark flourishes are certainly here but for the most part weaving themselves as one with Taymor's cinematic tapestry and the screenplay she wrote alongside Sarah Ruhl based upon Steinem's own book "My Life on the Road."
Taymor, creator of such films as The Tempest, Across the Universe, and Frida, has always been quite the compelling visual storyteller, someone whose inherently experimental nature comes alive on the big screen and whose films are nearly always both sensory and intellectual wonderlands. Taymor takes risks here, that's for sure, yet they don't so much seem like risks as there's a narrative cohesion one doesn't always find with Taymor.
The Glorias may very well be Julie Taymor's most accessible film to date. There will be those grateful for that, while others will perhaps find it a tad jarring.
Taymor has stitched together the Steinem journey, in certain ways quite literally, and the end result is an immensely engaging and thoughtful portrait of someone who has long seemed to defy understanding.
We meet The Glorias, again quite literally, in the stages of her life from childhood (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) through her teenage years (Lulu Wilson) into her 20's (Alicia Vikander) and finally toward middle-age (Julianne Moore) as the women's rights movement amps up and the Equal Rights Amendment becomes a reality. It's not necessarily a unique approach one could say, in fact it's filled with cinematic risks, but Taymor makes it work magnificently and it's rather magnificent to watch unfold. There's a journey that often unfolds alongside these life stages, a journey best left undescribed, and what could easily feel hokey instead feels introspective and all encompassing as The Glorias all seem to weave themselves together to become Gloria Steinem.
Rather fortunately, Taymor spends the most time with an adult Gloria, stages that are more thematically interesting and also capitalize on tremendous performances by both Vikander and Moore. Vikander's young adult Gloria is a promising writer in a male-dominated field. Vikander's Gloria isn't interested in placating those, mostly men, who are both intimidated by her and attracted to her. Yet, Vikander's Gloria is still learning to trust her voice and to overcome her insecurities. She wants to change the world, but she hasn't quite learned how yet.
Moore's Steinem left me in awe, her civl rights star rising as she confronts a fear of public speaking and aligns herself with other powerful voices like Bella Abzug (Bette Midler), Wilma Mankiller (Kimberly Guerrero), Flo Kennedy (Lorraine Toussaint), and Dorothy Pitman Hughes (Janelle Monae). Moore serves up a master class in relational acting, listening as intently as when she's speaking and breathing life and absolute magnetism into Steinem and making us understand the humanity and heroics that allowed her to become a leader who never stopped being willing to serve in the most minute of ways. Truly, Moore is simply extraordinary here.
Steinem, who turns 86 in March 2021, has long been known to resist questions about her relationship status for reasons that should be obvious. Yet, The Glorias gives us a glimpse inside the compromises made by Steinem to help create the world she believed in so passionately. In The Glorias, Steinem at all ages is constantly learning from those around her whether it's her father Leo, fleshed out nicely by Timothy Hutton, or her mother Ruth (Enid Graham), whose own writing career was set aside for parenthood and cultural norms. Scenes unfold that feel like a kaleidoscopic retrospective of the memories that shaped Steinem's activism, from encounters with separation of races in her teen years, to the broadening of the women's rights movement to include a variety of community including Blacks and indigenous peoples.
Steinem was, it would seem, always listening and always learning. Then, she turned it into leadership.
Taymor's stylistic flourishes occasionally falter, especially in a film that runs nearly 2 1/2 hours even if it is a 2 1/2 hours well spent. However, these brief faltering moments are quickly swept away by a story that informs, enchants, and is never less than entertaining.
Among the supporting players, Lorraine Toussaint is particularly energized and alive as Flo Kennedy, an African-American lawyer whose brashness and boldness helped Steinem find her own voice. Similarly, Steinem largely learned how to handle conflict from the seemingly conflict-fueled Bella Abzug, brought to life in a way that only Bette Midler can bring something to life. Enid Graham has some particularly poignant moments as Ruth, while it sure is nice to see Timothy Hutton handling material worthy of his immense talent. The list goes on as there really isn't a weak link in this remarkably strong ensemble cast.
Elliot Goldenthal's original music keeps time with the rhythm of the film, while Rodrigo Prieto's lensing is vibrant and alive yet intimate and humane. He's a perfect complement to Taymor's inspired storytelling.
The Glorias is a remarkable film, both informative and entertaining, serving as both straightforward biopic and visually compelling journey through the life stages of Gloria Steinem the human being and Gloria Steinem the activist. Perhaps perfectly timed following the recent passing of Justice Ginsburg, The Glorias may not be as radical as Ms. Steinem herself but it's an engaging, loving, and vibrant film and a powerful reminder that the revolution is far from over.
The Glorias is available for purchase on Digital and Streaming exclusively on Prime Video starting September 30th.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic