The life story of one extraordinary woman — Gloria Steinem — in the hands of another extraordinary woman — director Julie Taymor — gives us the visually stunning and emotionally probing biopic “The Glorias.” As is suggested by the plural title, Taymor uses four actresses, including Julianne Moore and Alicia Vikander, to portray the feminist icon throughout her life.
These multiple Glorias don’t just show Steinem at different ages; they also interact with one another. Based on Steinem’s autobiography, “My Life on the Road,” the different versions often meet on a bus. The eldest Gloria (Moore) talks to and comforts her younger self (Vikander). It may sound melodramatic but it made a lot of sense to me, especially when the worn-out, beleaguered teenage Gloria sleeps on the shoulder of her older self. It was very moving.
This somewhat lengthy film gives careful attention to Steinem’s activist activities and political relevance, and to her childhood. The complex upbringing she received from her parents is beautifully and painfully resonant. Her father (Timothy Hutton) is a big-hearted and dynamic, but unreliable, hustler, and his constant schemes for earning a living leave the family a legacy of terrible instability, even after he and his wife split.
So great is the psychic toll on Steinem’s mother that she is eventually institutionalized, after Gloria spends her teenage years taking care of her. The stress of life on the road with her family just trying to earn enough gas money for the next destination left her shattered. The fact that her own mother was once a promising journalist who suspended her career for her husband and children never leaves Gloria’s mind.
As Moore’s Gloria talked about her regrets with Vikander’s Gloria, her parents were often a subject, and she almost becomes a mother to her younger self. Even if you don’t come to this story with a strong connection to Gloria Steinem, anyone could see themselves in these moments, reflecting on who you were and what you wish you could tell your younger self. In “The Glorias,” Taymor makes this a literal concept, and it is artistically effective and emotionally moving.
At the national level, Steinem’s rise as an activist gives screentime to many other figures of the day, and we are treated to Bette Midler as Bella Abzug and Janelle Monáe as Dorothy Pitman Hughes. It felt like the film took great care to acknowledge her many influences and, while of course the film is focused on Steinem, she often shares the screen.
Whether you focus more on the private or public side of Gloria Steinem, both are vividly depicted and the emotional impact is never swept away in the historical view. It almost goes without saying that a film about a prominent activist is extremely timely in our current climate. But “The Glorias” is not just a historical tale; it is a deeply feminine coming-of-age story.
“The Glorias” is currently available to stream on Amazon Prime.
As we hurtle through the next few weeks, I recommend you seek solace in the dulcet tones of David Byrne’s “American Utopia,” a multi-camera recording of his Broadway production directed by Spike Lee. I was overcome hearing the first moments of an audience clapping and cheering, because it instantly struck me how distant a memory that sound is. If you miss people, performances or just “America,” this is a soothing and wonderful experience.
Byrne and 20 musicians and singers wear identical gray suits with no shoes or socks. It’s a fairly straightforward series of songs ranging from the most popular Talking Heads’ tracks of the past to his current work. Byrne makes a little patter between songs, then the musical performances march on. The choreography is pithy, quirky, almost ironic. The experience is simply joyful. You may well find occasion to watch this masterful concert film over and over to revel in the skill and spirit of the performers.
“American Utopia” is now streaming on HBO and HBO Max.
New This Week:
“After We Collided”: Dylan Sprouse joins the cast of this sequel to the young adult blockbuster book and film, “After.” This time around, Tessa Young finds herself struggling with her complicated relationship with Hardin Scott. In the aftermath of their breakup, she begins her internship at Vance Publishing Company, where she attracts the attention of her new co-worker, Trevor. Eastern Shore Premiere Cinema.
“Come Play”: Desperate for a friend, Oliver seeks solace and refuge in his ever-present cell phone and tablet. When a mysterious creature uses Oliver’s devices to break into our world, Oliver’s parents must fight to save their son from the monster beyond the screen. All listed multiplex theaters.
“Pretty Woman”: The Mobile Saenger Theatre’s Film Series will show this romantic comedy classic on Thursday, Oct. 29 at 7 p.m.
“Frozen”: Watch this modern musical during Mobile Saenger Theatre’s Film Series on Sunday, Nov. 1 at 3 p.m. Ticket prices are $6 for adults and $3 for children (12 & under) and seniors (60+). Limited concessions, as well as beer and wine, will be available.
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