“The Glorias” has all the ingredients for a really good biopic: a provocative personality as its subject, a stellar female-driven cast, and plenty of historical ground to cover. So it’s disappointing to find Amazon’s new Gloria Steinem biography to be such a slow, hard to connect with grind. Despite its admirable efforts the movie gets too creative for its own good, bouncing us back-and-forth along Steinem’s timeline, never allowing us to get firmly planted in her character or her story.
The movie is directed by Julie Taymor from a screenplay she co-wrote with Sarah Ruhl. It’s really hard to identify their goal mainly because their movie is so scattered and unfocused. Even worse, so much time is spent checking off boxes from her political activist résumé that we never get to know her personally. Most of the personal bits are just patched in and then left with practically no emotional detail whatsoever. This is especially true for the film’s second half which is kinda like reading Steinem’s Wikipedia page.
The first half of the movie is all over the map, trying to cover Steinem’s childhood, her teenage years with her mother in Toledo, even her sabbatical in India. There are few times where it bolts ahead to her later political work but only briefly. While these points in Steinem’s life are touched on, they aren’t covered in a way that gives them weight. The closest we get are the early scenes where we see the connection between a young Gloria (played by Ryan Kiera Armstrong and later by Lulu Wilson) and her kind but cash-strapped father (Timothy Hutton).
Alicia Vikander plays Gloria through her twenties and thirties. Her part of the story attempts to cover the most ground, from the wobbly scenes in India to the more pointed moments highlighting the sexism she faced as a young journalist. She begins dipping her toes in feminism, meeting and befriending several interesting people along the way who help shape her future activism. While her accent is a little shaky, Vikander does her best trying to bring something personal to scenes which never allow her stay in one place very long. It’s a tough assignment.
Then out of the blue the entire movie settles in on Julianne Moore’s older Gloria. These scenes tease us with a handful of quieter moments where Gloria wrestles with her status and the expectations of others. But it too falls into the trap of checking boxes and moving from one career moment to another. Even the supporting characters are undersold. Take Bette Midler who quite literally shows up out of nowhere with practically no introduction whatsoever. She plays Bella Abzug and you better know who she is before watching the film. It all ends in a messy final act that throws so much stuff at the screen but to little effect.
“The Glorias” turns out be a frustrating misfire. It’s a shame considering the sizable talent of the cast and a meaty life it has to explore. There are some bold choices by the filmmakers such as a reoccurring bus ride where the Glorias from different eras talk among themselves. They make for the occasionally good segue from one time period to the next. But the film ends up being so interested in showing Steinem’s days as a feminist icon that it often forgets the human element. And it stays away from any of her complexities and controversies leaving us with a fairly one-dimensional portrayal. “The Glorias” is now streaming on Amazon Prime.
VERDICT- 2 STARS