Movie Review: The Glorias
On Sept. 25, Amazon Prime streamed The Glorias with little fanfare. New movie releases are rare in our current COVID-19 reality. Marketing such an import biopic is challenging to do now that viewers are segmented over multiple platforms while watching during varying times, on unpredictable schedules. How would one devise an advertising campaign for such a thing? The targets are moving. Despite the difficulties and the cinematic release's cancellation, Amazon Prime picked The Glorias up anyway and has been streaming it regularly since September.
As a feminist, I'm glad I happened upon it. However, despite the movie's earnest attempts and solid acting, I can't say this will change the masses' hearts and minds about social activism or feminism. The format lends itself well to the intimate portrait it draws of a women's journey to accomplishment, notoriety, and esteem. On the other hand, the creative form is not successful in counter-arguing opposing feminist standpoints or explaining a timeline of historical events typically used in cinematic efforts to persuade. Instead, the movie depicts five different Glorias in separate eras of her life, sometimes in discussion with each other during dream-scene motorcoach sequences. While thought-provoking, it is difficult for non-Gloria fans to follow the plot's shifting timelines without prior knowledge of her backstory.
Initially slated for release before this year's election, the producer's plans were not to be. There was no opening-weekend media blitz with fashion and flashbulbs strategically executed in the hopes of drowning out conservative voices finishing off their campaigns. The Glorias now stands on its own, centered squarely amongst other Prime movies viewers will choose based on their content whims through the echo chamber of their current tastes and social values. Advocacy is hard in Covid times on streaming services.
While the film's initial intention was to remind voters of the grit, tenacity, and lifetime dedication it has taken to usher in feminism's third wave, The Glorias is too long to meet its wishful goals. At two and a half hours, it's an over-stretched journey. Asking viewers to remain focused for that length of time on social conscious-raising is far fetched even for idealists. Does anyone have that attention span anymore? That said, the film has many redeeming qualities. The non-feminist, purely entertainment-seeking, channel-flipper will still enjoy the period costumes, nostalgia for the 1960s and '70s culture, and cinematography (which provides a gorgeous traverse of the American landscape). The visuals and tone are enchanting and stimulating at the very least. The five actors portraying Gloria are immaculate in their seamless depiction of her over time. Her mannerisms, voice and speaking cadence remain constant despite shuffling these actresses in and out of various scenes as the film moves between eras. The performances are impressive and worthy of award season mention.
Based on Gloria Steinem's memoir, My Life on The Road, the film succeeds in depicting an activist's human side, and this is the plotline that marketers should have packaged and sold from the outset. Over the decades, women have dropped out of the women's movement when rhetoric became too idealized or polarized to represent the "every-woman." One could argue, this is a big reason the movement has crept along in slow-slogging waves rather than by bullet-train victories. In the 1960s, Phyllis Schlafly convinced women that feminism had no place for those who wanted to make a home and have a "traditional" family life. In the 1980s, feminists were super athletes like Billie Jean King, or corporate warriors, such as those depicted by Dolly Parton and friends in the movie 9-to-5. Many women secretly felt the caricatures the media created of feminists did not represent the mainstream and were unrealistic to the average American woman. Therefore, a film that illustrates the most formidable feminist's personal evolution is essential to allow women to place their standpoints within the broad umbrella of women's issues that feminism champions. Realizing that Gloria Steinem was not born a super-idealist but rather was shaped over decades of experiences before eventually embracing the social attitudes she holds today allows women to question, debate and evolve within their own womanhood without feeling they have defied the movement's agendas.
As stated earlier, the movie's strength is not in its advocacy or its accurate historical depiction of Steinem's memoir. Its strength lies in the conversation between the five Glorias over a lifetime that provides a generational and ideological representation of diverse voices and a clear path from working class youth to educated, well-traveled adult womanhood. Female viewers across generations will find all five forms of her relatable. It would be wise for Amazon Prime to pick this idea up and run with it, to provide similar biopics over the lifespan of many of America's female heroes. Women are labeled flighty when they change their minds during life evolutions. The Glorias challenges this trope. On its own, the movie's okay - entertaining enough. As an episodic series, it could be a masterpiece. Think of Lipton's Inside The Actor Studio? Imagine this expanded so that diverse female icons interview themselves on their motorcoach travels through their life's destinations - remembering and recounting their stories over multiple eras for other generations to learn from just as Gloria Steinem did here. It's an opportunity I hope Amazon Prime does not miss. The writing, directing and cinematography are tuned skillfully for this plotline. One could imagine it would not be hard for the director Julie Taymor and writer Sarah Ruhl to easily accomplish this task.
Other reviews have criticized The Glorias for its lack of focus on historical recounting as displayed so brilliantly in Hulu's Mrs. America. I agree. The Glorias is a disappointment if one expects this. If The Glorias fails at all, it's in its ambiguous promotion of a clear intention. A story should have a clear destination, a beginning, and an end, where the viewer knows what they are to take away from the tale told. It is too ambitious to educate the public on feminism while telling a beloved icon's granular life story. I blame the rushed marketing for the lack of cohesive packaging more than the filmmaker's execution. To understand a woman's growth over a lifetime, The Glorias succeeds with grace, depth and clarity. For Steinem's followers and those looking to understand how activists come to be, this film succeeds magically and is a good one for you.