The Glorias (2020) ☆☆☆(3/4): Viewed through her four different selves

Julie Taymor’s new film “The Glorias” explores the life and career of Gloria Steinem, one of the famous figures in the American feminist movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Although the overall result occasionally feels sketchy and overlong as trying to tell and show lots of things within its long running time (147 minutes), the movie still works well thanks to Taymor’s stylish and unconventional storytelling approach as well as a solid quartet performance from its four main cast members at its center, and you will agree that Steinem is one hell of a strong and interesting woman to observe and admire.

As often going back to a black and white fantasy part where Steinem’s four different selves riding on a bus going to somewhere, the screenplay by Taymor and her co-writer Sarah Ruhl, which is based on Steinem’s memoir “My Life on the Road”, freely juggles or juxtaposes the four different periods of Steinem’s life. At first, we see her early years via two different periods, and then these parts are frequently intercut with two other different periods in her adult years, which slowly come to take the main stage along the non-linear narrative of Ruhl and Taymor’s screenplay.

Through young Steinem, who is played by Ryan Kira Armstrong, the movie looks around her rather unstable childhood life. Her father Leo (Timothy Hutton) is a nice jolly dude who loves young Steinem and her older sister a lot, but he is not exactly a very good parent, and his reckless handling of his family’s financial state frustrates his wife Ruth (Enid Graham), who, as revealed later in the story, was a professional newspaper reporter but gave up her professional career after marrying her husband.

Life is never boring for young Steinem thanks to her dad, but there eventually comes a point where her mother leaves her father, and young Steinem, who is now played by Lulu Wilson, has to move to her grandmother’s shabby house along with her mother, who unfortunately becomes sicker physically and mentally not long after that. At one point, young Steinem happens to have a little fun with tap dancing at a local African American barbershop thanks to an African American girl around her age, but then she comes to spend so much time there that her mother becomes quite worried, and that leads to a very awkward moment which gives us a bit of glimpse into the racist aspects of the American society during that time.

In the meantime, the movie also examines how Steinem opened her eyes more to the world surrounding her as entering adulthood. As a young woman eager for more experience and knowledge, Steinem, who is played by Alicia Vikander during this part, explores the rural areas of India, and she becomes more interested in women’s rights after listening to the sad stories of injustice and discrimination from many poor local women, but things do not go that well for her when she subsequently returns to New York City for starting her journalistic career there. Magazine editors, who are all incidentally white males, discriminate her in one way or another, and she still does not get much respect even after she finally makes her big break through a blistering article on the work environment of female Playboy employees.

Nevertheless, Steinem keeps pushing herself against this daunting sexism in her field, and she happens to be at the right time for that. Like the civil rights movement, the female liberation movement was boosted considerably in the late 1960s, and it does not take much for Steinem to notice many signs of feministic advances here and there and then get herself associated with several prominent figures such as Dorothy Pitman Hughes (Janelle Monáe) and Florynce Kennedy (Lorraine Toussaint).

After observing that there is not any magazine dealing with women’s issues, Steinem and her female colleagues decide to establish a magazine for that, which turns out to be a huge success. As the chief editor of the magazine, she often appears on TV, and there is an amusingly self-indulgent fantasy scene where she imagines a furious counterattack on a rude male TV interviewer for a while. This goes a bit too long in my inconsequential opinion, but I guess it will feel exhilarating for many women out there who often have to face those condescending male jerks.

Around the narrative point where older Steinem, played by Julianne Moore, takes the main stage, the movie begins to trudge while becoming less interesting, but it keeps engaging us as often having Steinem’s four different selves interacting with each other. While Vikander and Moore are flawlessly connected with each other, Wilson and Armstrong are commendable as the other key parts of the movie, and the various supporting performers in the film including Timothy Hutton, Bette Midler, Janelle Monáe, Lorraine Toussaint, and Enid Graham are also solid as filling their respective small spots as required.

In conclusion, “The Glorias” is a fairly respectful presentation of its fascinating human subject, though I personally think recent FX TV miniseries “Mrs. America” did a better job of illuminating Steinem and other notable real-life figures of the American feminist movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I enjoyed it enough for recommendation, but I also urge you to move onto “Mrs. America” after watching it, especially if you want to know more about Steinem and her colleagues as well as their opponents.

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