'The Glorias' review: The Gloria Steinem biopic is more relevant now than ever

Julie Taymor takes on the life of the feminist trailblazer.

September 25, 2020, 4:00 AM

Since the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, it’s more important than ever to celebrate feminist warriors. So don’t miss “The Glorias,” a film that recreates the turbulent life and times of trailblazer Gloria Steinem, an advocate for women’s rights since the 1960s. Writer-director Julie Taymor felt so strongly about Steinem’s influence that she needed four actresses to play her. A stellar Julianne Moore portrays the Steinem of legend. But there’s also Ryan Kiera Armstrong as Steinem the child, Lulu Wilson as a Steinem the teen, and Alicia Vikander as Steinem in her twenties and thirties. All four actresses do her proud.

PHOTO: Julianne Moore and Bette Midler in "The Glorias."
Julianne Moore and Bette Midler in "The Glorias."
LD Entertainment and Roadside Attractions

Oscar winners Moore (“Still Alice”) and Vikander (“The Danish Girl”) energize Steinem's journey through history, from her career in journalism to going undercover as a Playboy bunny to expose sexist working conditions, co-founding Ms. Magazine in 1972, and partnering with New York Rep. Bella Abzug (a dynamite Bette Midler) to create the National Women’s Political Caucus. They never stop, moving on to the 2017 Women’s March on Washington.

In adapting Steinem’s 2016 memoir, “My Life on the Road,” Taymor—the visionary director of Broadway’s “The Lion King”—can go on visual tangents. On a “bus out of time,” all four Steinems join together to discuss their agenda. Jarring? Maybe. But these fantastical moments emphasize Steinem's role as a part of a female collective in which the individual only triumphs as part of a surging whole.

Biographical details are sketched in as Steinem grows up in Toledo, Ohio, as the daughter of a rootless traveling-salesman father, Leo (a terrific Timothy Hutton), and a journalist mother, Ruth (Enid Graham), who was forced to write under a male pseudonym and suffered bouts of depression. Her mother’s disappointment and subsequent breakdown strengthened Steinem's resolve to never let that happen to her.

Whether you see “The Glorias” in theaters or on Amazon Prime, you will revel in the sight of watching the marvelous Ms. Steinem in the exhilarating act of inventing herself. Taymor’s film reminds you that it wasn’t just white women on the front lines, either —it’s also such multicultural reformers as Dorothy Pitman Hughes (Janelle Monáe), Flo Kennedy (Lorraine Toussaint), Dolores Huerta (Monica Sanchez), and Wilma Mankiller (Kimberly Guerrero as the first woman elected chief of the Cherokee Nation).

Taymor has a tendency to rush ahead when we most want her to slow down and let us delve deeper into the life of this feminist revolutionary. But that’s a minor flaw in the face of the euphoria that comes from watching these women in action. When Steinem herself makes a cameo appearance, it’s hard not to cheer. She’s built an army of Steinems, men included, with no intention ever of giving up the fight.

Rated R

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