“The sun is female. The moon is male. The sun is always there. The moon comes and goes” – Gloria Steinem
The release of Julie Taymor’s “The Glorias” couldn’t have been more timely. Ruth Bader Ginsburg has died and the country stands on the precipice of the most important election in American history, regarding so many things but especially regarding the rights of women. In 2020, the fact that we are having to discuss how women are still fighting for equality is unheard of. But throughout the years there have been many forward changes regarding women’s rights and the subject of this film was always at the forefront.
Gloria Steinem is one of the most important figures in American history. Her achievements helped to improve gender equality. Steinem steadfastly refused to succumb to the rules set by a male-dominated world. Unwavering in her defiance, she became an important feminist leader and icon for American women, one whose legacy is undeniably powerful.
Based on Steinem’s autobiography “My Life on the Road,” director Julie Taymor’s “The Glorias” takes an interesting path in telling Steinem’s life story. The film examines the activist’s life by casting her in four different stages with four different actresses. Ryan Kiera Armstrong (as a child), Lulu Wilson (as a teen), Alicia Vikander (in her twenties and thirties), and Julianne Moore (the icon we have come to know). Each actress interacts with one another inside a bus that is traveling through Steinem’s memories. Older Gloria gets to ask her younger self the questions she should have asked as a young girl about her family and allows the younger versions of herself a form of peace when they see what they will become.
The use of such a disjointed timeline and artful design is not anything different for Taymor, an adventurous filmmaker whose unique visual styles bring out the power and emotion inherent to her subject matter. In her finest films (“Titus,” “The Tempest,” and the brilliant “Frida”) the director’s visual dramatics find a symmetry with the stories held within.
Sadly, Julie Taymor’s penchant for animation and dream-like narrative breaks do not vibe well with “The Glorias.” The fantasy-like visual breaks hurt the narrative and become more of a distraction, with one sequence (of a chauvinistic talk show host getting his just desserts) going on for much too long.
At times, there is something in Taymor’s filmmaking here that is less formidable. For a film about Gloria Steinem, the mood should have been more radical and in-your-face.
The film gets by with its pedestrian look at Steinem’s childhood, with Enid Graham as her journalist mother who was forced to use a male pseudonym that led to crippling depression and Timothy Hutton in the role of Steinem’s huckster father. Hutton hasn’t had such a meaty film role in years. His is a tragic character that lies to himself about being a failure, but his purest moments are when he shows his love for his young daughter, Gloria, just as he reveals his many shortcomings to her. As child and adult, the scenes between Gloria and her father are honest and tender, the portrayal of each parent speaking to what helped to shape Steinem’s determination.
The film recounts Steinem’s life’s journey for gender equality with varying degrees of success. We see her famous stint as a Playboy Bunny which was just undercover work to expose sexism, her involvement with the creation of Ms. Magazine, and her infamous pro-woman speech in front of the stuffy bigwigs at Harvard.
Most of these scenes work but the stifling factor that flows through a good portion of the film is the fact that Taymor moves too quickly. There are many sequences where Steinem is a large part of an important piece of women’s history but each scene is rushed through until the film plays as mere bullet points of the activist’s life, causing many of the scenes to come across as a bit shallow in their presentation.
A woman who achieved a legacy such as Steinem’s deserved lengthy dialogues speaking to her cause and herself. No matter which actress is on screen as Gloria, none are given the proper moments that would have allowed the audience insight. Taymor and Sarah Ruhl’s adaptation does hold singular lines where Steinem explains her views; the best one being, “sometimes we must put our bodies where our beliefs are.” But it is usually only one or two sentences that causes certain scenes to play as Cliff’s Notes rather than a serious examination.
With that said, there is a lot to like about the film. The cast is uniformly great. Moore, and especially Vikander, fully morph into Steinem. They have her voice, diction, and appearance down completely, watching them is stunning. Bette Midler is on fire in her few scenes as Bella Abzug and Janelle Monae does a serviceable Dorothy Pitman Hughes, a fellow sister in the women’s rights movement.
As added support, Lorraine Toussaint is fierce excellence as Flo Kennedy and Kimberly Guerrero is soulful as Wilma Mankiller, the first woman chief of the Cherokee Nation.
Elliot Goldenthal’s score matches the voices for women’s equality cheer by cheer. His use of an orchestrated score infused by deep guitar riffs and a charge-leading brass section is itself a call to arms.
Julie Taymor’s mother, to whom the film is dedicated, was an activist and writer. The filmmaker has spoken about her mother’s influence on her as a director but mostly as a woman. Her mother fought for women’s rights and that urgency is felt throughout most of the film.
While many scenes are rushed, the final half of the film settles in for some striking emotional moments as we see the movement growing into an unstoppable force on the side of right. The sight of women of all backgrounds banding together, united against their oppression is quite uplifting and gets to one’s soul.
By the time we see the footage of the real Steinem giving her speech at the 2017 Women’s March in D.C., we forget about the hurried style of the film’s first half. Steinem’s powerful words remind us of her achievements and her unyielding spirit. This is the time for all of us to remember and inhabit the feminist icon’s passion.
“The Glorias” is a flawed film that ultimately succeeds by showing the scope and power of Steinem’s movement.
As we look out at the millions of women marching in unison at the Women’s March, we realize Gloria Steinem’s impact on women all over this country. Today they are all The Glorias. Every single one. Their time is now.