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Review: A Smart Portrait Of A Living Legend In ‘The Glorias'

This image released by LD Entertainment and Roadside Attractions shows Lorraine Toussaint as Flo Kennedy, left, and Julianne Moore as Gloria Steinem in a scene from

This image released by LD Entertainment and Roadside Attractions shows Lorraine Toussaint as Flo Kennedy, left, and Julianne Moore as Gloria Steinem in a scene from "The Glorias." (Dan McFadden/LD Entertainment and Roadside Attractions via AP)

Gloria Steinem is always in conversation with herself in The Glorias, a sprawling and thoughtful biopic of the writer and activist. Director Julie Taymor knows better than to try to capture her entire life in a film, even one as long as this, and her reflective odyssey of a woman and icon who never stops growing is a beautifully messy attempt at something bigger. It doesnt always work, but has a natural engine and spirit to it that keeps you focused.

Gloria Steinem is always in conversation with herself in The Glorias, a sprawling and thoughtful biopic of the writer and activist. Director Julie Taymor knows better than to try to capture her entire life in a film, even one as long as this, and her reflective odyssey of a woman and icon who never stops growing is a beautifully messy attempt at something bigger. It doesnt always work, but has a natural engine and spirit to it that keeps you focused.

The film is based on Steinems memoir My Life on the Road, a concept which Taymor chooses to employ both literally and figuratively. Her Glorias, Julianne Moore as the middle aged version, Alicia Vikander as the young woman, Lulu Wilson as the teen and Ryan Kira Armstrong as the child, are always on the move and never at home. Theyre also all put together as co-passengers on a charter bus ride. Its on this highway to who-knows-where that they discuss their hopes, their regrets and their evolving perspective on everything from marriage to better comebacks for misogynist comments. Taymor checks in with the bus Glorias throughout, as though they are live commentators on their own story.

Taymor and her co-writer Sarah Ruhl skip hop through Steinems life including both the greatest public hits (going undercover as a Playboy Bunny, campaigning for the Equal Rights Amendment and abortion rights, launching the National Womens Political Caucus and forming Ms. Magazine) as well the less known private moments (missing her fathers death, caring for her sick mother).

Shot by the great cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (Silence, Brokeback Mountain), The Glorias works to create a kind of living document of someone whose rise was all but inevitable. Along the way, she forms bonds and professional relationships with fellow legends like Dorothy Pitman Hughes (Janelle Mone), Florynce Kennedy (Lorraine Toussaint), Dolores Huerta (Monica Sanchez) and Wilma Mankiller (Kimberly Guerrero). Bette Midler also makes a late film appearance as Bella Abzug.

The Glorias avoids much deep examination of its heroines supposed flaws or hypocrisies and instead presents an empathetic portrait of an empathetic person for whom home and family were never consistent. She is always looking for enlightenment and to be surprised, whether on the third-class womens only train car in India or at a biker bar in the Black Hills of South Dakota where she finds some unlikely fans. When a reporter asks her what shed say to someone who says that the feminist movement doesnt include Black women, she responds that she wouldnt say anything, shed just listen. She also seemed uncomfortable with her singular celebrity and the consistent attention on her looks.

This being a Taymor production, you can expect a few genuinely trippy sequences that come out of nowhere. But these maximalist sequences dont detract from the overall film (they dont add much either, but you cant help but appreciate them nonetheless).

All of the Glorias are wonderful at their parts too, although some might ding Vikander for her accent. Yet I think what she achieves is more powerful than a dead-on impression and Taymor should be applauded for taking a chance on the Swedish actor with imperfect American pronunciation.

The Glorias throws its hands up at the end with a jarring cut to Steinem reflecting on Hillary Clintons 2016 loss, shots of recent womens marches and even some of the real Steinem herself. Her impact is hard to quantify in a few minutes and these choices are a bit obvious and a bit artless for an otherwise smart and engaging film that avoids most cloying cliches.

But maybe a neat and tidy ending would be asking too much. This is a woman and a society that are still evolving, even as the credits are rolling.

The Glorias, a Roadside Attractions, LD Entertainment and Amazon Video release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for brief lewd images, some language). Running time: 139 minutes. Three stars out of four.

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MPAA Definition of R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

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Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr


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