The Glorias: Film Review

The Glorias

As a feminist and fan of Gloria Steinem, the well-known journalist and equal rights activist, I was excited to watch The Glorias, and while I came away satisfied that I had learned more about the feminist icon, I wasn’t particularly impressed by the biographical drama as a whole.

Julie Taymor‘s film features Steinem in four stages of her life – Ryan Kiera Armstrong plays her as a child, then Lulu Wilson as a teenager, Alicia Vikander from 20 to 40 years old, and Julianne Moore thereafter. The film begins with her childhood in 1940s Ohio and depicts her travels in India, her beginnings in journalism, her learning to speak in public with the help of Dorothy Pitman Hughes (Janelle Monae) and Florynce Kennedy (Lorraine Toussaint), and the creation of Ms. magazine and the ERA movement.

The film took ages to find its feet and I struggled to get into it for a while because Taymor played around with structure and made The Glorias all over the place chronologically – one moment we’re with Armstrong as a child and the next we’re in India with Vikander. Although it continues to do this throughout the movie, it happens slightly less – particularly once Steinem starts her journalism career – and you eventually get to grips with it.

The biopic is framed around all four Glorias riding together on a Greyhound bus to who knows where. Every so often the film returns to the bus and the Glorias will interact with each other and discuss a particular decision she made, such as the younger asking the older if she ever regretted not having children. It was incredibly jarring at first but I grew to like them because they gave us more insight and depth into Steinem than the other scenes, and the pay-off at the end – when you find out where they’re going – is cool.

Taymor also makes some interesting style choices, plays around with colour, and a couple of times throws in a surreal, fantasy scene that is just bizarre. Occasionally she’ll switch up the Glorias mid-scene and you’ll be left thinking, ‘Huh?! I swear it was Vikander just now?!’ and it’s just jarring and baffling. Also, there was logic to when the younger actresses changed but the switch from Vikander to Moore seemed to happen with no significant time jump and that made no sense.

I think Mrs. America will also have a big impact on how this is received. When The Glorias had its world premiere at Sundance in January 2020, the TV miniseries hadn’t come out yet, but by the time it got a release, the show had and it’s very easy to compare the two. For example, the section about Ms. magazine and the ERA is heavily depicted in the series so I knew all about that already and didn’t learn anything new, and you also can’t help but compare the performances too – Rose Byrne vs. Moore, Margo Martindale vs. Bette Midler as Bella Abzug, and Niecy Nash vs. Toussaint for Kennedy. Everyone was great but you just can’t help thinking about it.

My favourite Gloria was Moore – she felt more like the real deal and looked the part too. As much as I love Vikander as an actress, she didn’t look like Steinem and her accent was very inconsistent. I enjoyed Midler as the loud Abzug, Toussaint as the bold Kennedy, and I would have liked more of Monae as the kind and understanding Hughes.

If like me, you presumed this would be a straightforward biopic, you will be very much mistaken. At almost two and a half hours, it’s far too long, and it struggles in the beginning and starts to drag towards the end, but I still found it insightful and engaging.

On Sky Cinema from Sunday 7th March

Rating: 3 out of 5.