Movie Review: The Glorias
The Glorias is a biographical film about the life and work of Gloria Steinem. The film is not always linear, but because Steinem has spent a lot of her life traveling, there is a connecting thread of a bus headed down the road where the different iterations of Gloria's past commiserate and attempt to understand the seminal moments of her life. The film stars Ryan Kiera Armstrong, Lulu Wilson, Alicia Vikander, Julianne Moore, Janelle Monáe, Loraine Toussaint, Bette Midler, Kimberly Guerrero, Monica Sanchez, Mo Brings Plenty, Enid Graham,Timothy Hutton, and Gloria Steinem. The film is directed by Julie Taymor and written by Taymor and Sarah Ruhl. The film is streaming exclusively on Amazon Prime.
Julie Taymor is a filmmaker who takes big swings. She's very theatrical in presentation and it often adds a great deal of fantasy and magical realism to her films. The technique can overwhelm the plot and be self indulgent. It's the reason I avoided or disliked Taymor's previous works. However, The Glorias is able to utilize these techniques to great effect. Taymor's whimsical style fits well within the narrative presented.
I especially like the device of the bus. As we learn from the film, Steinem has spent a lot of her life in a transient space, moving constantly, so it's a perfect metaphor. The bus is used as a way to experience memory and reckon with the past. It's a liminal space where all the Glorias seek understanding and challenge each other.
I really like the idea that the Glorias are interchanged in certain situations. There's one particular scene in which Gloria (Vikander) rides in a cab with two other writers, talking about their approach to the interview when one of the men makes a snide, sexist comment. The scene shifts and Gloria (Moore) leans forward and shoots back the perfect barb. The scene shifts back to the bus and Gloria (Vikander) shakes her head wishing she could have said what she knows Gloria (Moore) would have said. Gloria (Moore), then tells her she'll get to that space, not to be hard on herself. It's a brilliant way to play with memory and writing.
Though, while this is a story about one woman's memory, Taymor and co-writer Sarah Ruhl never forget about the other women present. They never compromised and rewrote the story to suit some romantic angle or to amalgamate several women into one for clarity. Gloria raised up her fellow women of all backgrounds. She doesn't consider herself a monolith and the filmmakers recognize that. The women that stood with Gloria are as prominent as Gloria in the film, their voices are also heard and lifted up.
One of the best performances in the film comes from the incomparable Lorraine Toussaint. She commands every scene she's in. I could have watched a whole film of Toussaint as outspoken and powerful Flo Kennedy. Additionally, Bette Midler tears through the material with her impeccable sense of timing and scene stealing energy. Though, one shouldn't forget the affecting and powerful performance of Kimberly Guerrero. These women share space, but also command us to listen to their individuality and points of view.
I didn't love every aspect of The Glorias. I felt I missed some context for certain scenes or that there could have been more exposition in some places. I also sighed when there was a bit of a superhero origin moment when Gloria (Vikander) picks out her first pair of glasses that have become very much a part of the iconic Steinem look. Yet, the film makes me want more. It makes me hope for movies, books, TV shows, articles, or just more material on Dolores Huerta, Wilma Mankiller, Flo Kennedy, Dorothy Pitman Hughes, and Bella Abzug. The film encourages all of us to learn about the people who fight for a righteous change and make us hope for a better world. It makes me hope that their work has not been ignored. I encourage you to watch this film and think about the power of people in service of ending unjust practices.