Gloria Steinem is a towering figure in the women’s rights movement. Just in terms of activists, overall, she’d be up there. So, a biopic of her life is hardly a surprise. Hell, even a stylized one makes sense, considering her stylish nature, as well as the time she came about. However, it’s hard not to have the feeling after seeing The Glorias that filmmaker Julie Taymor was the wrong choice to helm the flick. This film, despite passionate performances, falls very flat. In making this so highly stylized and employing more than one actress to play Steinem, a lot of the effectiveness that would otherwise be here is lost. Simply put, this is a disappointment.
The movie is a biopic of Glorias Steinem, but a highly stylized one, more in tone with something like I’m Not There than a traditional prestige picture. Simply put, it’s the story of feminist icon Steinem’s life, looking at how various elements influenced her as an activist, a writer, and and organizer for women’s rights all over the globe. Her tough childhood in Ohio during the 1940s gave her the drive to become a crusader for justice. Steinem is shown throughout various portions of her life, with actresses Ryan Kiera Armstrong, Lulu Wilson, Alicia Vikander, and Julianne Moore playing her (Moore and Vikander get the lion’s share of the screen time). Over time, a portrait of a determined woman and a future icon takes shape. Taymor co-writes with Sarah Ruhl and directs here, basing the script off of Steinem’s own book (the real Steinem also has a small role). Supporting players here include Timothy Hutton, Bette Midler, Janelle Monáe, Lorraine Toussaint, and many more. Elliot Goldenthal composes the score, while the cinematography is by Rodrigo Prieto.
There’s a sense that it’s one step forward, one step back here. Julianne Moore and Alicia Vikander are solid here, but it never stops feeling like a gimmick. Julie Taymor’s choice to split them up just doesn’t work, and it feeds into the feeling that this is far too long and far too unfocused a film. The work suffers because of it. Sometimes, the style fits the moment in time, but too often, it distracts and feels unnecessary. Taymor is this kind of a director, that’s no surprise, but the material just doesn’t suit this sort of direction. That’s also on her and her co-writer Sarah Ruhl for not finding a better way to integrate it all. The result is a mess.
The Glorias is at its most alive when Steinem is first coming up, doing her Playboy Bunny expose, as well as at the very end, when the election of Donald Trump comes into play. Unfortunately, this is a movie that runs nearly two and a half hours, so it can’t consistently engage. That’s where the real issue comes to bear…there are boring moments in this biopic, which completely shouldn’t be the case. Even if Taymor’s style doesn’t fit the story, it shouldn’t leave you shrugging, and that’s the case too often during this one’s running time. Experimental yet un-engaging is a tough combination.
Now playing on Digital as well as Amazon Prime Video, The Glorias has a few highs, but ultimately too many lows to be worthy of a recommendation. As a curiosity, it has some definite moments, but the overall product is sadly a let-down. Gloria Steinem deserved more, even if this is undoubtedly as unique a take on her as she is a person. Still, we could have had something special here…
The Glorias is available to watch now on Amazon Prime Video, as well as on Digital.
(Photos courtesy of LD Entertainment and Roadside Attractions)