Steinem Unplugged in ‘The Glorias’

by Christian Ramos on October 1, 2020

in Print Reviews,Reviews

Available on VOD and Amazon Prime Video now.

[Rating: Minor Rock Fist Down]

The life and story of feminist icon and activist Gloria Steinem has finally found its way to the movies. Steinem’s life has a series of highs and lows, in her fight for equal rights for women across the past forty years, and the fight never seems to end at one particular time. The new biopic The Glorias, based on Steinem’s memoirs and directed by Julie Taymor, unfortunately creates a dead end in trying to tel the story of this important American heroine — taking many detours to finally get to the point in what seems like a long, unending bus ride.

Told in four unique moments of Steinem’s life, the first two eras are of young Gloria growing up with a family that lived and traveled in a mobile home and a father (Timothy Hutton) whom Gloria seems to idolize. Transition to a more mature young adult Steinem (Alicia Vikander) in the main chunk of the first half. Vikander does a wonderful job in laying the groundwork for Steinem’s career from student in India to a writer for various New York magazines, which never give her the chance to really express herself because she is a woman. Her biggest rise to fame is an undercover expose detailing the life of a Playboy Bunny that leads her to want to write even more challenging pieces for herself.

One more transition to an early 1970s Steinem (Julianne Moore) during the time when the Equal Rights Amendment was a hot topic issue for Steinem along with her colleagues, including feminist Bella Abzug (Bette Midler) and Dorothy Pitman Hughes (a CRIMINALLY underused Janelle Monae). It’s this adult Steinem that is mature and sticks up for herself in a time where women still believe their place is and was in the home. The four Glorias join each other on a strange bus ride, complementing each of their journeys and wondering what more they could have done in life to better themselves. 

The biggest problem the film had was the clarity it wanted to go for. I immediately got hints of On the Basis of Sex in terms of presenting a female character who championed equal rights, and last year’s Judy in how much of a mixed message this had. Yes, we are supposed to understand this is Gloria(s) telling her own story, but why do it on a bus ride that does not go anywhere until an obvious glorified cameo? Director Julie Taymor, well known for her films Across the Universe, Frida and mega Broadway hit The Lion King, uses her psychedelic influence on this bus to move the Glorias along, but stories going back and forth and convolute a lot of the plot. For example, in one second Steinem’s father has passed, but further scenes have him alive and seemingly in the same time frame. There’s many editing issues here that even furthers out the length of the film. Throw in a title card for events happening! I had to read a Wikipedia biography to know about certain events in the film. 

At least the highlight of the film is the portrayal of Steinem. Vikander and Moore both give such inspiring performances. There were brief moments I thought both of them were Steinem, especially with her unique speech pattern. 

Overall, The Glorias probably should have been a documentary. With documentaries, you are able to tell full stories while having an actual subject tell their story. Yes, this is direct from Steinem’s own memoirs, but even having her tell her own story? My goodness that would have made this a helluva lot better a way to really get to know who Steinem is.

Christian Ramos is a classic film fan, having had the dream to host Turner Classic Movies for years now. He also has a large amount of Oscar trivia in his head, remembers dressing as Groucho Marx one Halloween, and cherishes the moment Julianne Moore liked his tweet.

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