The Glorias

 

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The four ages of Gloria Steinem are crammed into a lumbering mishmash that fails to capture the woman behind her causes.

   

Glorias, The

Ms. America: Julianne Moore as Gloria Steinem and Janelle Monáe as Dorothy Pitman Hughes

  

The last time Julianne Moore played a Gloria was two years ago, in Gloria Bell. But here she’s sharing the title role with three other actresses, all of whom play Gloria Steinem at different stages of her life, and sometimes all at once. The film biography has always been a tricky animal and writer-director-producer Julie Taymor tries to plough up the field with ill-fated results. Be it a documentary, cartoon or hagiography, a film needs to tell a good story in order to engage its audience. The Glorias, which slips back and forth across time and colour schemes, is nothing if not ambitious. But it can’t make up its mind what it wants to be. A film about the woman might have been interesting, but after the impoverished childhood and a quick trip to India, the biog largely abandons its protagonist in favour of Gloria’s causes. So in-between the newsreel footage, fantasy sequences and even an animated insert, we get the speeches: speeches fighting for the rights of women, blacks, lesbians, abortion, Native Americans and anything worth a placard. When the film ends with yet another sermon – simultaneously broadcast across the US, UK, France, Kenya, Australia, Germany, Canada, Italy, The Netherlands and India – and yet another orchestral surge – one feels like one has been battered across the head by the complete works of Germaine Greer.

 

It is unlucky for Julie Taymor that the same territory was tackled with more style, pep and wit in the FX miniseries Mrs. America, which was broadcast in April of last year, with Rose Byrne as Steinem. Here, Taymor attempts to cram in too much in the space of 139 minutes. It at once feels too short and too long, like four different movies muscling in on our attention. It starts conventionally enough with a nine-year-old Gloria (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), muddling along in the grip of imminent poverty. There’s her poor mother (Enid Graham) suffering from headaches, agoraphobia and anxiety, and her struggling, opportunistic father, played by a chubby Timothy Hutton (with Helena Bonham Carter hair), at times resembling Jack Nicholson at the same age (60). His catchphrase, “If you don’t know what happens tomorrow, it could be wonderful”, stays with her throughout her life. In her next incarnation, the teenage Gloria is played by an impressive Lulu Wilson, who acts as nurse for her ailing mother. There’s impressive production design, too, from Kim Jennings and wonderful costumes from Sandy Powell, although Elliot Goldenthal’s score is crushingly conventional.

 

Julie Taymor has always been a fearless, experimental director, validated by her extraordinary stage production of Disney’s The Lion King and her off-beat interpretations of the works of Shakespeare and The Beatles on film. And the cause of feminism befits her, although she has become just one of many recent strong female voices in the cinematic throng. Indeed, she has led the way for the likes of Chloé Zhao, Emerald Fennell and Regina King, but the drum she is beating already seems old hat. The best part of the film is when Gloria, as played by Alicia Vikander, starts climbing the professional vines in the male-dominated jungle of New York journalism. Says one editor: “You’re a good writer. You write like a man.” It’s here, as Gloria fights her corner like the male of the species, that the film shows its dramatic muscle, before getting weighed down by its didactic agenda and a string of spiky cameos (Lorraine Toussaint, Janelle Monáe, Bette Midler…). As the older Gloria, Julianne Moore brings a certain gravitas to the film and shows yet again what a courageous actress she is. She played Joan Baez in Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There (2007), which featured five actors – and Cate Blanchett – as Bob Dylan, but at least that film had the advantage of magical imagery and some terrific music. Unfortunately, The Glorias is not sure what it wants to be.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Julianne Moore, Alicia Vikander, Timothy Hutton, Lulu Wilson, Lorraine Toussaint, Enid Graham, Ryan Kiera Armstrong, Kimberly Guerrero, Monica Sanchez, Janelle Monáe, Bette Midler, Olivia Olson, Olivia Jordan, Victor Slezak, Vince Pisani, Nick Basta, Jim McKeny, Tom Nowicki, Lynne Ashe, Michael Lowry, Joe D. Lauck, D.W. Moffett, Leon, Chris Mayers, Jay Huguley, Alan Cassman, Madhur Jaffrey, Gloria Steinem.

 

Dir Julie Taymor, Pro Julie Taymor, Lynn Hendee and Alex Saks, Screenplay Julie Taymor and Sarah Ruhl, based on the memoir My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem, Ph Rodrigo Prieto, Pro Des Kim Jennings, Ed Sabine Hoffman, Music Elliot Goldenthal, Costumes Sandy Powell, Sound Paul Hsu, Dialect coaches Leigh Dillon and Charlotte Fleck.

 

Page Fifty-Four Pictures/Artemis Rising Foundation-Sky Cinema.

139 minutes. USA. 2020. Rel: 7 March 2021. Available on Sky Cinema. Cert. R.