Julianne Moore as Gloria Steinem
Alicia Vikander as Gloria Steinem (ages 20–40)
Lulu Wilson as Teen Gloria Steinem
Ryan Keira Armstrong as Young Gloria Steinem
Bette Midler as Bella Abzug
Janelle Monáe as Dorothy Pitman Hughes
Timothy Hutton as Leo Steinem
Lorraine Toussaint as Florynce Kennedy
Co-Written & Directed by Julie Taymor; Co-Written by Sarah Ruhl
The Glorias Review:
In her 60-plus years in the American feminist movement, Gloria Steinem has been a shining light for millions of people both in the country and around the globe, establishing herself as an icon whose story would be a moving tale to see brought to life on the big screen and while Julie Taymor and Sarah Ruhl give it their all alongside their star-studded cast, The Glorias can’t quite live up to its central subject’s legacy.
Based on Steinem’s own memoir My Life on the Road, The Glorias (Julianne Moore, Alicia Vikander, Lulu Wilson, Ryan Keira Armstrong) traces Steinem’s influential journey to prominence—from her time in India as a young woman, to the founding of Ms. magazine in New York, to her role in the rise of the women’s rights movement in the 1960s, to the historic 1977 National Women’s Conference and beyond. The film includes a number of iconic women who made profound contributions to the women’s movement, including Dorothy Pitman Hughes (Janelle Monáe), Flo Kennedy (Lorraine Toussaint), Bella Abzug (Bette Midler), Dolores Huerta (Monica Sanchez) and Wilma Mankiller (Kimberly Guerrero).
The concept of having multiple actors play one role at various stages in a life is very routine for the biopic genre, but the concept of having these various performers and iterations interact with one another is actually a brilliant and fresh experience more films should experiment with. Dexter Fletcher’s Rocketman — wrongfully ignored by the Academy — toyed with the concept in moments as the older and younger versions of Elton John conversated and even sang with one another, but The Glorias finds a way to take it a step further and have these interactions establish the story at its various points in a breathtaking fashion.
Part of the film’s issue is, however, exploring the many interesting areas of her life, both before and after the start of her involvement in the feminist movement. In choosing to jump back and forth in her lifeline rather than starting at the beginning and closing at the end, there may be some nice connections in thematics for the the story, but it also establishes some of the film’s uneven pacing and tone. Running at nearly two-and-a-half hours, Taymor and Ruhl give the film plenty of time to explore the various facets of Steinem’s life, from her constant moving as a childhood to her time in India in her 20s and co-founding of Ms. magazine, but the pacing in the film can’t ever keep the stride it gets.
It’ll begin to gain speed as she reaches some of the more milestone moments in her life and they’re told in plenty stylish fashion, albeit some shoddy CGI, but as it tries to weave together the thread of the next chapter in her life, it quickly loses that steam and becomes a bit of a slog to get through. A slower-paced biopic isn’t inherently a bad thing, Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln offering a good example, but given the film continually sways between a quicker pace and a crawl, it becomes a bit of a disappointment.
To assemble the brilliant roster of just Julianne Moore, Alicia Vikander, Lulu Wilson and Ryan Keira Armstrong is already a feat within itself, and the filmmakers know not to keep these strong actresses apart and to let them play off of each other that proves endlessly compelling. While the older iteration of Steinem may not deliver very life-changing revelations to her younger selves, the words of advice feel authentic as she reflects on her storied past.
Along with the central four, the supporting cast all mostly deliver strong performances in their roles, with Lorraine Toussaint delivering some well-executed levity as Florynce Kennedy and Monáe tapping into her real-life powerful persona for Dorothy Pitman Hughes, though Bette Midler’s Bella Abzug is more of an acquired taste that proves uninteresting to watch in moments.
Overall, the story structure and runtime may work against the film in parts, but thanks to a stellar roster of performances, some stylish direction from Taymor and a unique take on the biopic formula, The Glorias is a plenty moving and fairly interesting effort that honors the life of its incredible central subject.