Julie Taymor's biopic of Gloria Steinem is rarely as radical as the woman herself. However, it still features some theatrical flourishes from Taymor that one familiar with her work might expect. More importantly, is that the film manages to tap into our current times and remind us how relevant and still on-going Steinem's fight is. She is a feminist icon for a reason. Her activism still impresses.
Four actresses play Steinem. Ryan Kiera Armstrong and Lulu Wilson split duty covering her years as a little girl and teen. Alicia Vikander plays her as a young woman and Julianne Moore plays her during her most iconic era. The film's disjointed style is wrapped by a bus trip in which all four versions of Steinem interact, asking their younger and older selves about big moments in their life. This helps a little in grounding the film's first act in which the jumping around in stages of her life is at its most chaotic. The fragmented narrative structure pays off in the film's second and third acts as we begin to see the seeds of her youth pay off. It also reminds us of where Steinem comes from, where her self-doubts lie and where her conviction bubble up from.
The film kicks into full gear as we follow the Glorias founding the landmark Ms. Magazine. Vikander excels in the scenes of Steinem as a young journalist who is subjected to sexism, harassment, and discrimination. The film does a great job of showing us what drives the magazine, it's the years of being sidelined by men who didn't take her seriously and don't take women seriously. Along the way, we are treated to some good performances in side roles by Bette Midler, Janelle Monáe and Lorraine Toussaint.
Taymor's penchant for musical flourishes and other odd stylings are a mixed bag here. There is a dance number in Black barbershop that is beyond cheesy. There is an odd Wizard of Oz sequence that is partly animated that comes out of nowhere. However, there are also a few moments where these crazy scenes work and one wishes the film would have decided to be either a slightly psychedelic wild ride through Steinem's life or the more conventional biopic it often is. The mix is jarring.
Scene by scene the film works, thanks largely to the great lead performances. Moore is riveting here. She carries Steinem's wisdom from a full and accomplished life in every pour. And it can't be said enough that Taymor clearly loves her subject here and she makes us the audience understand why. Steinem is an important voice in history and I left The Glorias with a deeper appreciation of the woman. In some ways, that is the goal of a biopic.
THE GLORIAS is available for purchase on Digital and Streaming exclusively on Prime Video starting September 30th.