Biopics come at us so fast and furious, it’s hard to write about one without pointing out they all feel the same. That’s why when something like Julie Taymor’s The Glorias is released, it feels like a breath of fresh air. The movie, at its core, is a conventional biopic and tries to hit the big points of feminist icon Gloria Steinem’s life, but Taymor infuses the movie with enough flair to make it feel like something special.
If you are familiar with Taymor’s work – Titus, Frida, Across the Universe – the stylistic choices she makes in The Glorias shouldn’t surprise you but may alienate you. Those who are willing to go on the journey with her will be rewarded with a rousing and inspiring good time, even as the story feels unwieldy at times.
The promotional material for the movie has Julianne Moore front-and-center as Steinem, but she is seen in many different iterations of her life throughout the film. Alicia Vikander first appears in black-and-white on a bus, traveling somewhere, while the world outside is in color. The bus becomes a key symbol throughout the film, showing Vikander and Moore, along with younger versions of Steinem, played by Ryan Kiera Armstrong and Lulu Wilson. In these dreamy sequences aboard the bus, the various Glorias interact with each other and impart wisdom and reflection from various stages of life. These are some of the strongest moments of The Glorias.
When the actors are outside of the bus, grounded in reality, the movie feels more like the biopic you’d expect: Young versions of Gloria, early life with her parents (prominently her relationship with her father, played by Timothy Hutton), her days working at a magazine and so on. When the movie occasionally dips in checklist territory, Taymor’s vision will regain your attention.
In the final moments of the movie, it becomes clear the title has dual meanings. Perhaps it was obvious all along, but The Glorias isn’t just talking about the various actresses who portray Steinem in different parts of her life. The movie emphasizes anyone who wishes to see change, who hopes for a better life and equality for all human beings, can be a “Gloria.” It’s a powerful, urgent and necessary message to illustrate in today’s increasingly divided – and potentially regressive – climate.
This is now the second project this year to feature Steinem. This Spring, Mrs. America had its debut on FX and Steinem was played by Rose Byrne. The Glorias has the icon as its focus, but as the movie portrays, maybe she was a little hesitant to be the face of change. When Gloria is offered the magazine cover to talk about what she is trying to achieve, it’s clear she wasn’t looking for any kind of activism fame. “There would be a movement without me,” she declares. Perhaps that’s true, but The Glorias is a great reminder of how thankful people around the world are, and continue to be, for her fearless work.