You don’t expect a musical number in a biopic about Gloria Steinem, Director Julie Taymor puts a little bit of song and dance into the mix with her new movie about the activist. As she did when she won a Tony by turning Disney animated characters into live actors handling puppets for Broadway’s The Lion King, Taymor looks for unexpected approaches to spice up action.
Rather than follow a standard beginning-middle-end road for her biopic, Taymor and co-writer Sarah Ruhl enliven their project by jumping around with time, actresses, and film stocks. This partly explains her title, The Glorias, since four different actresses play Steinem. One even gets to tap dance. More importantly, the actresses intermingle and show Steinem’s evolution as she rebels against the stultifying sexism of her time. Several Glorias appear in single scenes, questioning one or the other’s decisions and development.
The approach allows for a highlight, when all four Glorias ride on a bus, along with the real-life Steinem sitting up front. Black and white footage distinguishes traveling scenes inspired by Steinem’s autobiography called My Life on the Road. Literally and figuratively those roads take Steinem to meaningful places and brighten her biopic.
The cast helps too, with Oscar winners Julianne Moore and Alicia Vikander morphing into Steinem’s signature style that combines a calm manner with forceful ideas. Other impressive performers round out the cast; Lorraine Toussaint from Orange is the New Black stands out as boisterous lawyer and Civil Rights advocate Flo Kennedy, while Bette Midler easily slips into the hats of U.S. Representative Bella Abzug. Rapper Janelle Monáe makes a likeable Dorothy Pitman Hughes, who taught Steinem about public speaking and co-founded Ms. Magazine with her.
Providing both factual details and relevant ideas, The Glorias acknowledges its subject’s failures as well as successes and applauds her determination to keep on fighting for her beliefs. Premiering earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival and originally slated for theaters, The Glorias is available for purchase on digital and streaming exclusively on Prime Video.