Modern feminism owes a lot to Gloria Steinem, and director Julie Taymor revels in explaining why in The Glorias, her creative biopic about a woman who has fought tirelessly throughout her life for the rights of all women. Taking the title of Steinem’s autobiography — My Life on the Road — literally, Taymor centers her story on a bus on which primary passengers are Steinem at different ages: child (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), young teen (Lulu Wilson), young woman (Alicia Vikander), and mature activist (Julianne Moore).
As the different Glorias interact with one another while the bus journeys to an unspecified destination (which is revealed by the time the credits roll), the film introduces important events and people in Steinem’s life. There’s her spontaneous but unreliable father, Leo (Timothy Hutton); her frustrated, emotionally fragile mother, Ruth (Enid Graham); the friendly Indian women who helped her experience their country authentically; the condescending male magazine editors who didn’t see her as a real journalist; and the many, many women she worked with as they advocated together for equal rights, from Dolores Huerta (Monica Sanchez) to Dorothy Pitman Hughes (Janelle Monae) to Wilma Mankiller (Kimberly Guerrero).
Along the way, Steinem publishes a searing expose about what it’s like to work as a Playboy Bunny, co-founds Ms. magazine, and helps start the National Women’s Political Caucus. The film lauds all of these accomplishments, but it also takes the time to acknowledge some of the costs of full-time activism. Pitman Hughes and Huerta worry that they can’t be good mothers and good advocates at the same time. Huerta and Steinem clash over the issue of abortion. Steinem finally finds room in her life for a powerful love, only for it to be tragically fleeting.
The four different Glorias all do a worthy job of embodying a true American icon. Vikander and Moore get to spend the most time in Steinem’s shoes, and they clearly enjoy the opportunity to bring her to life. Taymor’s unconventional biopic structure helps make a daunting task — telling a life story as big as Steinem’s in just a couple of hours — successful, and the ending, when it comes, is likely to inspire both smiles and a desire to get out on the streets, marching alongside Steinem and her fellow activists. — Betsy Bozdech
Team #MOTW’s comments:
MaryAnn Johanson The life of an important, influential woman so rarely gets a cinematic treatment as epic as this one; in fact, I’m struggling to think of a film about a woman that is as big and as bold as The Glorias. This is an incredible achievement for Julie Taymor, rendering the life of Gloria Steinem as a daydream, a nightmare, a journey, an ongoing conversation between the enthusiam and adventure of youth and the wisdom and knowledge of experience. And what a treat to see two terrific actors — Alicia Vikander and Julianne Moore — allowed to creat a portrait of a woman so complex, so well-rounded, so fully and messily human. Brava.
Pam Grady: Feminist icon Gloria Steinem’s life and work unfolds in Julie Taymor’s lush, epic biopic. In some ways, the drama is the cinematic equivalent of a greatest hits record as it catalogs Steinem’s extensive achievements – her fellowship in India, her Playboy bunny exposé, her co-founding of Ms. magazine, and so on. But its greatest strength is not in that list-making but in the attention Taymor and co-writer Sarah Ruhl pay to the character of the woman, expressed by not one but four actors – Julianne Moore, Alicia Vikander, Lulu Wilson, and Ryan Kiera Armstrong – portraying Steinem not just at different ages but in relation to each other. It is an ongoing conversation that explicates just how a little girl caught between the poles of a talented but broken mother (Enid Graham) and ebullient but sketchy father (Timothy Hutton) and who yearned to be a dancer grew into the brilliant adult who would become one of the towering figures of modern feminism. Taymor is sparing in her use of visual flourish, but when she lets loose, as in one exquisite talk show scene that evolves into a Wizard of Oz-esque fantasy, The Glorias soars.
Nikki Baughan: When someone takes on the mantle of leader, of activist, of the bringer of change, it’s easy to forget that, behind that public face, there’s a multi-faceted person. That simple humanity is at the heart of Julie Taymor’s vibrant portrait of feminist Gloria Steiner, which focuses on the moments, the feelings and the flaws which created the powerhouse that Steimer has become. And so, while the film hits familiar biopic beats, touching on the successes and failures, realizations and experiences that shaped Stainam’s world view, this idea that this is about the pieces of a woman is underlined by the fact that she is played by four different actors. Ryan Keira Armstrong plays her as a girl, riding the wake of her travelling salesman father’s free spirited approach to life. Lulu Wilson portrays her as a teen, living in the shadow of her mother’s mental illness. Alicia Vikander and Julianne Moore play her as an adult, keeping hold of her vulnerability – she initially hates public speaking, finds it hard to stand up to the misogyny she despises – even as she turns into an icon. Sometimes, all four of these iterations collide – in fantasy sequences, on a bus as they discuss moments of their life – cementing the idea that this is a life constantly evolving, that we always have much to learn from ourselves. It’s a fitting achievement to a truly remarkable woman, and the strength of an entire movement, and a reminder that, as far as equality is concerned, we still have many more miles to go.
Leslie Combemale With The Glorias, which is loosely and inventively based on Gloria Steinem’s autobiographical book My Life on the Road, Julie Taymor brings the activist and icon of women’s rights’ story to the screen by using four different actors to play her, but that isn’t really the reason for the film’s name. The Glorias references not only various stages of her life, but also the many women who brought Gloria fully into herself. That’s what makes this film so vibrant. As Steinem herself will tell you, it is in the talking circles and conversations and collaborations with other women that she learned, grew, and ‘became’. Flo Kennedy, Dorothy Pitman Hughes, Bella Abzug, Dolores Huerta, and Wilma Mankiller are all represented, and all by wonderful actors who add a palpable sense of sisterhood to her story. It is made very clear that without any one of these women, Steinem’s life work would not have had the scope it had or still has. Anyone who wants to experience a film 100% centered on women, their relationships with each other, and their relationships to their own power, should watch this film. It is indeed an empowering and uplifting experience, and after the loss of another icon, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, we could use as much of that as we can get. Read interview with Julie Taymor.
Sandie Angulo Chen: Like most biographical dramas, The Glorias is a venerational chronicle of Gloria Steinem’s life. Based on her 2015 memoir My Life on the Road, the film, directed and co-written by Julie Taymor has the feel of a play, which is unsurprising since Taymor and co-writer Sarah Ruhl (a playwright) come from theater backgrounds. The conceit is this: the movie follows Steinem at four stages in life: girl (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), adolescent (Lulu Wilson), young woman (Alicia Vikander), and mature woman (Julianne Moore, who plays her for the longest time span), with the theme of Steinem traveling on the road (mostly via bus) as the film’s overarching thread. The film isn’t strictly chronological and at some points all four versions of Gloria interact, with the younger versions asking the older ones for clarity or the older ones offering comfort and perspective. Taymor has gathered an impressive team, including the award-winning leads and an excellent supporting cast, most notably Janelle Monáe, Bette Midler, Lorraine Toussaint, Kimberly Guerrero as Steinem’s fellow second-wave feminists Dorothy Pitman Hughes, Bella Abzug, Flo Kennedy, and Wilma Mankiller, respectively. Cinematographer Rodrigo Pietro deserves a shout out for the gorgeous visuals, and Taymor’s artistry is rightly in place. At nearly 2.5 hours, the film could’ve been shorn a bit, but it’s a worthy tribute to an iconic woman’s extraordinary life.
Loren King Even if you’ve traveled through much of Gloria Steinem’s life already — whether by her book My Life on the Road; the play Gloria: A Life written by Emily Mann and directed by Diane Paulus; or the recent Hulu series Mrs. America —Julie Taymor’s inventive, sometimes fantastical, movie The Glorias is a worthwhile trip. Written by Taymor and playwright Sarah Ruhl, much of the material is familiar but no less eye-opening as Taymor follows the feminist trailblazer at different stages of her life, when she is played by four different actresses. Read full review.
Nell Minow: Julie Taymor’s gift for visual storytelling works as both literal and metaphoric depiction of Gloria Steinem’s extraordinary life. The women’s movement aphorism that “the personal is political” is reflected as well, and one of the most moving scenes of any film this year comes near the end, when a gray-toned image that is a leit-motif throughout the film is finally flooded with color.
Susan Wloszczyna: The good news about The Glorias is that Julie Taymor tries to avoid biopic clichés as she employs four actresses at different ages to tell the story of feminist icon Gloria Steinem’s life. But while indulging in her usual visual panache on screen, the director is almost too ambitious in trying to bring this notable legend to life. Read full review.
Jennifer Merin Julie Taymor’s brilliantly conceived and beautifully crafted Gloria Steinem biopic couldn’t be more timely. The film covers Ms. Steinem’s life and career from early childhood, through her impactful work as a journalist and activist. Unconventionally structured, it casts four superb actresses — Julianne Moore, Alicia Vikander, Lulu Wilson and Ryan Kiera Armstrong — as Gloria in different periods of her life. The concept works well to reveal Steinem’s internal development as well as her career achievements and social impact.
Liz Whittemore The Glorias is glorious. A beautifully edited and incredibly relevent biopic, Julie Taymor takes her theatricality and applies it to some of the most important moments in civil rights history through the life and work of Gloria Steinem. This film is filled with stunning performances from Julianne Moore, to Janelle Monae, Alicia Vikander to Bette Midler. With its carefully crafted emotional beats, it will be impossible for women to disconnect from the story. Everything in this film is on the ballot in November. The Glorias should be the film you watch while making your way to the poles.
Kathia Woods There has been much chatter around legendary feminist activist Gloria Steinem. So naturally, there was intrigued when Julie Taynor’s film The Glorias premiered at Sundance. For the first time, we learned about Gloria as a child and how those events influenced her activism. We see Gloria as a person, not just a figurehead. I enjoyed Julianne Moore as the older Gloria, but I liked Alicia Vilkander more as the young adult Gloria. It was also lovely to learn how she put her iconic look of the sunglasses matched with the blond streaked hair. I liked that they spotlighted the contribution of African American Women such as Dorothy Pitman Hughes. I didn’t enjoy the cartoonish part and would have liked them to have spent more time on the alliances of various women, such as Asians and Latina women. At times, the film seemed a bit too long. Overall this was a film that finally gave an important woman the flowers she deserved.
Cate Marquis There were three big names that helped launch feminism’s Second Wave in the 1960s and 1970s – Betty Friedan, author of
The Feminine Mystique, Germaine Greer, author of The Female Eunuch, and Gloria Steinem, journalist, activist and co-founder of MS Magazine. Steinem is the subject of Julie Taymor’s splendid, inventive, non-linear biopic, The Glorias. Julianne Moore stars as the older Steinem, with Alicia Vikander as her youthful self, and two gifted girl actors as Gloria as a child. Germaine Greer doesn’t get a mention and Betty Friedan only a passing one, but we do get other giants of the era, including Bette Midler as politician Bella Abzug, and Janelle Monae as activist Dorothy Pitman Hughes, as well as Cherokee leader Wilma Mankiller (Kimberly Guerrero) and Chicano labor organizer Dolores Huerta (Monica Sanchez) and others. Taymor brings her magical creative visual storytelling powers to this visually lush tale of Gloria Steinem’s usual childhood and remarkable, world-changing career, told very much from Gloria’s view. Mixing the personal and profession with much charm, Taymor often bends time and blends different periods of Steinem’s life to create a wonderfully entertaining, insightful and moving portrait of a life and a movement that changed the world for women.
Title: The Glorias
Director: Julie Taymor
Principal Cast: Julianne Moore, Alicia Vikander, Lulu Wilson, and Ryan Kiera Armstrong
Release Date: September 30, 2020
Running Time: 139 minutes
Screenwriters: Julie Taymor, Sarah Ruhl based on Gloria Steinem’s book, My Life On The Road.
Distribution Company: Roadside Attractions
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Marina Antunes, Nikki Baughan, Betsy Bozdech, Leslie Combemale, Pam Grady, MaryAnn Johanson, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna, Kathia Woods
Edited by Jennifer Merin