It doesn’t take long into The Glorias to realize what the film is trying to accomplish. Four differently-aged versions of Gloria Steinem sit inside a black and white Greyhound bus while the world outside the windows is hazy but fully colored. Through the use of this basic cinematography trick, the film is subtly conveying that this isn’t a film about Gloria Steinem; it’s about the world surrounding her…except it is.
Steinem’s career as journalist turned feminist icon turned co-founder of Ms Magazine is no doubt storied and life-changing for many women around the world. There are literal decades of tales to be told, yet the film focuses on Steinem’s memoir My Life on the Road and thus presents Steinem as someone free of any mistakes and never runs into any real conflict.
In the 2 hours plus remaining, The Glorias does little more while also never picking a lane on what tone it wants. Julie Taymor and Sarah Ruhl’s screenplay is without any structure, going from an adult Gloria to a younger to another without any sense of why. The youngest (Ryan Kira Armstrong) of The Glorias is a kid who likes to read books and hangs on her father’s (Timothy Hutton) every word, even though she probably shouldn’t. In her teenage years, Gloria (Alicia Vikander) is left to care for her mother (Enid Graham). The latter struggles with a mental illness in Toledo, Ohio, after her father leaves for the road yet again. As crucial as a plot point as this is, I was surprised not to see the film spend any time with Gloria dealing with the immense weight of having her father abandon her and her mother. Especially given that the section with Vikander makes up most of the film’s runtime, and as much as I love Vikander’s other work, I was surprised not to like any of what she does here. She does a Midwestern accent here that sounds like her voice is about to give out at any moment, and much of her acting results in trying to be funny in serious situations. That’s how it felt anyway. Thankfully, Julianne Moore’s section gives the proper weight to the film’s later areas, such as the formation of Ms Magazine and the 1977 National Women’s Conference as the oldest of the Glorias.
All four of the Glorias occasionally talk to each other in that same Greyhound bus to serve as these statements and internal dialogue that don’t make much sense. The concept is a clever one, but the way it comes off here is nothing other than a way for the film to make statements. However, there are highlights like a Wizard of Oz homage that come out of nowhere but do well to break up the experience and probably made the VFX team very happy.
It’s rather unfortunate because The Glorias has a great message: that a woman can make a difference and can take her life experiences into a wide-stretching political school of thought. While that sounds great on paper, the film takes almost every opportunity it has to make Gloria Steinem into this larger than life personality and removing the historical events portrayed as this simple right or wrong choice. I would think that when you have such a star-studded cast as this, you would use that cast to pay reverance to things like the ERA movement. These actresses have oodles of talent, but yet they’re reduced down to these deified beings that can do no wrong. What’s even worse is that it takes the hard-fought victories away from the people who started the feminist movement such as Dorothy Pitman Hughes (Janelle Monáe), Flo Kennedy (Lorraine Toussaint), labor rights leader Dolores Huerta (Monica Sanchez), and Native American activist and best friend to Gloria Steinem, Wilma Mankiller (Kimberly Guerrero), only appearing to impart wisdom and shuffled offscreen shortly after.
I can’t help but think of what this film could have been if it took the other path. If instead of treating Gloria Steinem as the face of the feminist movement, it had featured her life and how she influenced the feminist movement as a result of the help of all those who came before her. It does get there with the reveal of where the bus is going – the 2017 Women’s March in Washington – something that is inspiring in the moment but is overcast by its lack of a meaningful story.
The Glorias is streaming now on Amazon Prime Video.
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