Movie Review: “The Glorias”

It is entirely possible that at some point in the near future, someone who comes to this website to take a look at the film reviews and listen to the podcasts will think that we exist, at least at the present moment, with a purposefully political bent. Although that has never been the intent of The TV and Film Guy’s Reviews, we have existed for years with the understanding that, as the description of the Lass is More podcast plainly states, “The things we watch are not created in a vacuum, but rather as responses to far larger thoughts and issues.”

Perhaps the films being released at this moment focus more heavily on larger societal issues than in the past. Perhaps with multiplexes being closed for months and larger studios turning off the tap of popcorn fare, what we are left with is a series of films which make the issues of the day (and past days) that much more plain. That is, the number of such films haven’t changed, but the percentage has risen.

Beyond that, how is one going to watch a biopic about Gloria Steinem and not talk about rights and equality? How is one not going to take into account the fact that the President of the United States has been accused by more than two dozen women of sexual misconduct? Trump would, no doubt, call her a “nasty woman,” and while all the versions of Gloria Steinem would be angered by the statement, some would also wear it with pride.

Yes, “all the versions of Gloria Steinem.” That there are multiple versions is, in a nutshell, the central thesis of “The Glorias.” Heck, it’s right there in the title just in case, like our President, you have an inability to look at things with any sense of depth or nuance, thought or consideration.

Directed by Julie Taymor with a screenplay from Taymor and Sarah Ruhl (and based on “My Life on the Road” by Steinem), one of the repeated ideas in the film is that of a bus on which Gloria travels. Well, it’s a bus on which, at different points, all the Glorias travel… sometimes together. There’s adult Gloria, played by Julianne Moore; there’s younger adult Gloria, played by Alicia Vikander, there’s pre-teen/teen Gloria, played by Lulu Wilson; and child Gloria, played by Ryan Kiera Armstrong (these are the names I’ve given them based on their rough ages, not names provided by the film). The Glorias have conversations with each other, they ask each other questions, and contemplate the actions of one another. There are, at times others (non-Glorias) on the bus as well.

As it plays out, we understand the bus to be Gloria’s thoughts and feelings, that which is going on inside her mind. She hears the voices of her younger self; she hears the voices of her older self; and she certainly hears the voices of those with whom she is working, and those against whom she is fighting. They are all there inside her mind, questioning and contemplating and moving forward.

“The Glorias” is strongest in those moments and in the times where one Gloria slips into being another as she interacts with the world around her. It is a fascinating concept of who we all are as people and how we understand ourselves.

Vikander and Moore are, not surprisingly, given the most time as Gloria, and they are forces to be reckoned with. Vikander’s Gloria gets the best journey as she is the Gloria learning to face the world at large, learning who she is, and figuring out what she wants to do. Moore’s Gloria is the one who has come into her own and who faces challenges, but there is never a sense that she won’t accomplish everything to which she puts her mind; she is Gloria at the height of her power.

It may be because of all the work Steinem has done in her life or due to its general structure, but the film feels a little scattered at times. Although it largely plays out in temporal fashion, it does not fully do so– there are moments when it jumps backwards or forwards, further lending to the loose nature. The through line, however, Gloria’s struggles (or maybe, “the Glorias’s struggles”) to advance the cause of equality as she wrestles with self-doubt, is always there and no matter how weird the film gets (and there are some odd moments), that is more than enough to keep it al going.

Outside of the Glorias, the movie treats us to views of several women with whom Steinem worked through the years, something which offers the opportunity for Janelle Monáe, Lorraine Toussaint, and Bette Midler to all turn in memorable performances as they play Dorothy Pitman Hughes, Flo Kennedy, Bella Abzug, respectively. It is with these people that Gloria tries to find the right way forward. She learns from them and works with them, as they support one another.

Also appearing in the film is Timothy Hutton as Gloria’s father, Leo Steinem. The movie makes a lot of Leo’s constantly being on the move, constantly being near broke, and constantly thinking up the next way to make five dollars. There is some notion that Gloria’s own moving from one job to the next, one way to progress the cause to the next, one fight to the next, comes from Leo’s movements, just as her being a writer is from her mother, Ruth Steinem (Enid Graham), and the work she did before marriage.

Gloria learning from all the people around her and synthesizing things works exceptionally well. It provides details on her youth while showing us one of the ways she has been able to accomplish so much. It makes her a kind, compassionate, strong human being who has never shied away from a challenge, a woman who is willing to listen to those around her, learn from them, and incorporate new and changing ideas into her thinking. In short, she is the kind of a person whom we should all strive to be, or at the very least, her goals are the ones for which we should all be fighting.

Walking away from “The Glorias,” one is left with the feeling that although Steinem may have accomplished much through her work, the fight is far from finished. Perhaps it provides something of a road map for those who would follow in her footsteps. Maybe, we can make sure that she is one of the voices and faces on our bus as we travel through life.  That wouldn’t be political, just smart.

photo credit: Roadside Attractions

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