The Glorias, now available streaming on Amazon Prime, lovingly depicts the trailblazing feminist icon Gloria Steinem at various stages of her life. The film is based on Steinem's 2015 memoir, My Life on the Road, and stars Julianne Moore, who's fabulous, and Alicia Vikander, who's uncharacteristically remote, as the adult incarnations.
Directed by Julie Taymor (Frida, Across the Universe), and written by both Taymor and playwright Sarah Ruhl, Glorias does not follow Steinem's life chronologically. It bounces from early childhood to adolescence to young adulthood to mature adulthood, many of the scenes linked thematically and bridged by a physical train, on which all the actors portraying Steinem — and ultimately Steinem herself — share reactions to their life's pivotal moments.
That narrative device is appreciated, as it deviates from the increasingly standard biopic structure. Memoirs and biographies of important people are these days regarded as little more than intellectual property, and filmmakers adapt them under the assumption that great lives automatically lead to great movies.
Sadly, it's not that simple.The Glorias isn't bad — it's beautiful to look at and is anchored by the ever graceful Moore — but the desire to relate as much of Steinem's life as possible has led both to an overly expository script and a supremely bloated one. At two-and-a-half-hours, the onslaught of trivia and minor life episodes occasionally makes it feel like an adaptation of a Wikipedia article, not a memoir. Both the cinematography and the production design, however, including a Technicolor array of costumes, create rich visual portraits of the mid-20th century, when Steinem emerged as a leading figure in the women's movement and co-founded the seminal Ms. magazine.
A lively ensemble cast, including Janelle Monae, Lorraine Toussaint, Kimberly Guerrero and Bette Midler, dramatizes the intersectional nature of the movement.
Midler, as Bella Abzug, is the best of the bunch. She provides a shock of humor in a movie that often feels more solemn than it should. Abzug's speech at the 1977 National Women's Conference in Houston is The Glorias' marquee goosebumper, elevating the crusade for women's rights to the rhetorical altitude it's worthy of.